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Mitzvah Moments: Rachel deBaere

12/16/2022 10:16:57 AM


Tell us a little about yourself.  I've been a member of Rodef Sholom for almost 60 years. I became a bat-mitzvah at Rodef in 1972, was confirmed and married there as well. My three children were blessed and named by Rabbi Michael Barenbaum. I live in San Anselmo and am a custodian for a Guide Dog for the Blind breeder dog. I teach 2nd grade at Venetia Valley Elementary School, which is right across the street from the synagogue. I love that I belong to both sides of the street!

Tell us about your mitzvot: For this most recent Mitzvah Day, I chose to work at Venetia Valley with some other members of Rodef. We cleaned up the grounds together. It was cool to meet new people from the Rodef community and to share a place that’s important to me. As we worked, I even had the joy of sweeping alongside a former student of mine and her dad. I love that Venetia Valley was benefitting, and that the volunteers at Rodef got to know more about Venetia Valley through me and the families that joined on that day.

I also mentor at Canal Alliance with the Opportunities for Youth (OFY) program developed to support unaccompanied minors who have arrived in Marin. I meet with my mentee every few weeks. She came to the U.S. with her sister when she was 15. She is just beginning to learn English, so we mostly speak Spanish together. I'm providing her with experiences she's never had the chance to encounter before. She’d never been on a boat, so we took the ferry from Larkspur to SF and back. Before getting on the boat, I could tell she was a little nervous and when I asked her how she was feeling, she said, "My heart is pounding right now!” She ended up loving it, of course. She’d also never ridden a bike, so I posted on NextDoor to see if anyone stronger than I could help hold her up on a bike to help me teach her. A neighbor from Sleepy Hollow, whom I’d never met before, met us at Wade Thomas School, and my mentee learned how to ride that bike in just 15 minutes! That experience was truly joyful. Here I was thinking I was doing a mitzvah; instead I felt that I was the recipient of the mitzvah itself because of the kind neighbor I didn’t know I had! Sometimes, my mentee, who recently learned to swim, comes to the JCC as my guest to practice in the pool. It's so enriching to have a one-on-one, ongoing opportunity to help grow a better world. I care so much about the immigrant community in my work at the elementary school. Rodef has a history of caring about immigrants, so volunteering in this way feels like coming full circle for me.

 How did you get involved in this particular project? I learned about OFY through the synagogue’s social justice initiative. They put out an announcement that Canal Alliance was looking for people to be mentors, so I applied.

 What have you learned through participating in this mitzvah? Working alongside other people in the community, whom you don't know but who care about the same issues you do, is really rewarding. It deepens the entire experience and provides for moments of meaningful connection.

How can other people get involved? I feel it’s super easy to get started with just a phone call or an email. There are so many communities right here with many needs! The Rodef Sholom website has plenty of options for getting involved. Just that is a gift!

Thu, February 2 2023 11 Sh'vat 5783