The Jewish Connection Network is offering a full day of service and learning opportunities at the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC to honor Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy on his birthday.
Held on Jan. 15, the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Learning & Service provides opportunities to learn about King’s life and do good in the community based on his teachings, with programs aimed at everyone in the Jewish community from young children to its oldest members.
The Day of Learning & Service has long been a project of Jewish Volunteer Connection, as the organization has held similar programming every year. This tradition continued when JVC became part of the Macks Center for Jewish Connections, which recently rebranded to the Macks Jewish Connection Network. This is the first instance of the program following this change.
With this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day programming, the Jewish Connection Network is primarily focusing on families with young children, whom they found were lacking related programming for the holiday.
“There’s a lot of community programming for MLK Day; we’re not the only ones who do programming. But instead of trying to reach specific target audiences this year, we’re trying to focus on the gaps of who doesn’t have MLK Day programming this year,” explained Alli Berger, senior associate of volunteer experiences at the Jewish Connection Network.
In partnership with PJ Library and PJ Our Way, the Jewish Connection Network is offering two programs at the Owings Mills JCC — one for young children and their families, and one for children in third through sixth grade and their families. The former will feature themed crafts and storytimes about the importance of diversity, while the latter is focused on viewing an episode of the show “Black-ish” and discussing its messaging and themes with educator guest speakers.
“The episode is about microaggressions, which feels like a tangible way to start learning about racism in a way that is easier to grasp for younger children,” Berger noted. She added that watching a show is an accessible way to introduce children to the issue of microaggressions, while also remaining somewhat lighthearted.
She added that the key to educating young children on racism when they may be too young to understand its wider implications is to focus on community and celebrating differences within it. Rachel Pototsky, the planner of the program for young children, and the family experiences senior associate at the Jewish Connection Network, described the event as an introduction to diversity for children.
Both programs also incorporate Kindness Kit projects, in which participants will be creating care packages that include frequently requested items like toiletries, socks and food for the network’s nonprofit partners. Young attendees can also write postcards to their local representatives to share what they learned and how they can use their voices to promote positive social change in the community.
Jewish Connection Network staff hope that these programs will initiate wider conversation about racism and diversity in Baltimore’s Jewish community, and the lessons people can take away from King’s teachings.
Jewish Connection Network will also be participating in several community events in honor of MLK Day, such as East Baltimore’s MLK Day of Service and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service with Civic Works, which will both see volunteers cleaning up local parks and public outdoor spaces; BHC Justice’s special screening of “Birthing Justice,” featuring speakers from the MomCares doula program for Black mothers and focusing on racial discrimination in the maternal health care system; and Shabbat of Love.
For Shabbat of Love, Repair the World Baltimore, JOC Mishpacha Project, OneTable, Beth Am’s BAYITT group and Bolton Street Synagogue’s BOLT group are teaming up to put on this program at Beth Am. Shabbat of Love programs are happening across North America on Jan. 19.
Following its rebrand, the Jewish Connection Network is taking on a new direction and wants these programs to be more intimate so participants can have meaningful conversations with each other and learn from their different experiences.
“Hands-on service is important, and meets the urgent needs of people in our community, but it doesn’t do anything to address the systemic issues that are the root cause of these urgent needs,” Berger said. “So this year, we’re really leaning into the learning aspect. We just want people to be more open-minded. Even kids can have hard conversations.”