Counting the Minutes as Well as the Omer’s Days
Second Helpings Atlanta shows the way with its model for monthly volunteering.
For those who observe the ritual of Sefirat HaOmer — counting the seven weeks between Passover and Shavuot — as a period of semi-mourning and reflection, the opportunities for celebration can be quite limited.
For day school teachers, this season entails another kind of countdown, from spring break to graduation. I’m counting the number of papers and tests in my “to be graded” folder, readying myself to begin writing report card narratives.
Attempting to ward off the end-of-school-year blues, I accept invitations to attend a few celebrations during Sefirat HaOmer and welcome the opportunity to spend time with a friend and Rabbis Without Borders colleague, Rabbi Ruth Abusch-Magder, at the AIB Network Allen Awards ceremony.
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Despite the traffic on Interstate 285, or because we account for it, we arrive early and enjoy visiting the gallery in the Southwest Arts Center and meeting board members and other guests at the reception. I notice someone I know I’ve met — I never forget a face — but I can’t place where or when, and before I can greet him, we are ushered into the auditorium.
Rabbi Ruth is offering the invocation, so we are directed to sit in the VIP section, close to the stage.
After the opening musical performance, welcome speeches and invocation, the nominees for the AIB Community Spirit Award are announced in a brief video.
The instant Second Helpings Atlanta fills the screen, I realize that guest at the reception is none other than the agency’s executive director, Joe Labriola. It has been nearly a year since we met, and I’ve thought often about how I could help him recruit Weber students to work with this incredible organization.
The video ends, and the winner is announced, and I see Joe making his way down the aisle to accept the award. He speaks for a few moments about how much this recognition will help raise awareness in the community about Second Helpings’ mission to fight food waste and food insecurity. Their volunteers rescue surplus food from restaurants, grocery stores, corporate dining halls and school cafeterias and deliver it to agencies that feed the hungry throughout metro Atlanta.
Before he concludes his speech, Joe highlights their 90 Minute Model, which enables volunteers to make an impact in just 90 minutes a month.
As we applaud and congratulate Second Helpings, I find myself invested in yet another counting this Sefirat HaOmer — not of weeks or days, but of minutes. Perhaps I should call it an accounting: 90 minutes is the equivalent of one class block plus five minutes before and five minutes after to travel between classes.
As the introduction for the next award begins, I resolve to continue my search for 90 minutes in the coming month — once final exams are graded and report card narratives are written — to volunteer with Second Helpings Atlanta.
The rest of the evening flies by; it is time well spent, recognizing the strength of our diverse, interfaith community.
The 2018 John Houston Allen Awards ceremony will be broadcast the week of May 6 on AIB. Check with your television provider for times, or watch on the AIB website or on YouTube.
Rabbi Pamela Jay Gottfried is the dean of Jewish studies at the Weber School and a Rabbis Without Borders fellow.