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Avodah and AJWS Will Close Popular Program

Two Jewish non-profits will soon close a popular social justice program aimed at Jews in their 20s and 30s.

American Jewish World Service and Avodah announced on June 11th that they will discontinue their Pursue: Action for a Just World partnership at the end of 2012. The organizations said they are taking the move in order to focus resources and attention on their respective missions. AJWS is focused on global justice issues while Avodah runs a year-long U.S.-based learning program.

AJWS President Ruth Messinger called the closing a sad but necessary decision.

“While we both wanted to work with this age cohort of young people, Avodah wanted to focus in on their urban poverty program and AJWS wanted to focus in on attracting young activists on global justice issues,” Messinger said.

“Of course there is a loss in a community when a valuable program closes,” added Merrill Zack, AJWS’s associate director of education and community engagement, who ran Pursue. “Pursue did provide a special place for a community, and I’m not sure what is out there that will fill that exact space.”

Officials insisted that financial issues were not behind the decision to end Pursue.

Pursue was created in 2006 as a way for the two organizations to continue engaging alumni of their service programs.

What started as a small initiative grew into a pulsing activist community of young people. Over the past six years Pursue has run over 256 programs, spread throughout seven cities, with 6,000 participants and 156 partnering organizations. The programs encouraged Jewish youth to get together and talk social justice, whether at intimate dinners around the Shabbat table, humanitarian discussions in the classroom, or, most recently, a scavenger hunt at the Brooklyn Flea Market.

According to Zack, the activities attracted more than just the Avodah and AJWS participants, and Pursue events were comprised of young activists from all walks of life seeking to find communities of like-minded Jewish humanitarians.

“We provided different kinds of opportunities, places where people who were long time participants could feel at home and new people could come and see if it was the right community for them,” Zack said.

Pursue found itself at the center of a controversy earlier this year when it announced a service trip to Israel that some Avodah participants contended would gloss over the Israeli occupation. An Avodah staff member in Chicago quit in protest, and Avodah participants and alumni circulated a petition demanding that the trip visit the Palestinian territories.

As a result, Pursue included a trip to the West Bank and meetings with anti-occupation activists in its travel agenda.

Both Avodah and AJWS representatives said that the disagreement surrounding the Israel trip had nothing to do with the decision to dissolve Pursue.

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