When the Jewish News caught up with Max Sandler two years ago, the Virginia Beach native was adapting to life in Gondar, Ethiopia. Then 26, Sandler had committed to a year living and working in an environment unlike anything he was familiar with, as a Jewish Service Corps Fellow teaching English in a village with spotty electricity, an intermittent water supply system, and unreliable internet service.
Despite the huge societal and cultural differences he experienced, Sandler thrived in the fellowship coordinated through Entwine, an initiative of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). Entwine is a boots-on-the-ground, grassroots-style movement that engages young Jewish leaders who want to positively impact global Jewish needs and address international humanitarian issues.
After returning to the United States a year ago, Sandler entered graduate school at George Washington University’s School of Business where he is a 2015 MBA candidate.
The demands of school are great, but so is Sandler’s commitment to Entwine, the JDC, and the organizations’ ideals, and his involvement remains a priority.
In November, Sandler will be the co-leader of a JDC Entwine trip to Israel. Inside Israel 2014 is a departure from the Israeli experience many young adults get on missions or through Taglit-Birthright. This trip provides an in-depth look at social innovations in Israel through the lens of JDC’s programs there. Visitors witness how JDC, the Israeli government’s leading partner, helps meet the critical social issues facing the country’s most-vulnerable citizens.
“JDC believes that we are part of a single, interconnected Jewish world, and Max and other Entwine volunteers are a critical part of our mission by bringing their talents, knowledge, and passion to bear on Jewish needs in every corner of the world,” says Sarah Eisenman, executive director of Entwine and an assistant executive vice president at JDC. “They truly are a force for good, and then return home where they continue their volunteer leadership, bringing their young adult peers along with them and connecting them to the global Jewish community and Israel.”
While Sandler no longer lives in the area, his parents do (Annie and Art Sandler), he considers Tidewater home, and remains an ardent supporter of the goals and mission of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater. Respect for his leadership is widespread, and Sandy Katz, executive director of JDC International Initiatives, says Sandler’s involvement is a reflection of many in the Tidewater Jewish Community.
“JDC treasures our relationship with the Jewish community of Tidewater, whose philanthropic generosity and shared leadership has significantly benefited Jews all over the world,” says Katz. “In countless ways, your community embodies our commitment to the ideal that all Jews are responsible for one another and all humankind.”
We asked Sandler to share his JDC Entwine experiences, insights and personal opinions with Jewish News and he readily agreed.
Jewish News One-on-one with Max Sandler
JN: You spent a year as a JDC Jewish Service Corps fellow in Gondar, Ethiopia, teaching English. How did that experience shape your world view in relation to your Jewish values?
MS: I think that my upbringing really shaped my world view. My family has always traveled together since I was very young. I’ve seen and done a lot of things in various places across the globe. We always, and still do, travel to learn about the world. This being my background, I take pride in the fact that I’ve learned so much from my experiences. My time as a Jewish Service Corps (JSC) fellow in Gondar was the first time I have lived anywhere outside of the U.S. In this regard it was an eye-opening experience for me. My parents engrained in my sisters and me the importance of giving back and tikkun olam. While it is always great to give back financially, there’s nothing quite like giving your time and energy to make this world a better place. My time in Gondar motivated me to do more, to try and make a bigger impact. What I realized is that I don’t have to travel 7,000 miles to do that. There is plenty to be done right here in my home community. To that end I am more active than ever with my local Jewish organizations and strive to fill leadership roles within them to both share my experiences and learn from like-minded people.
What are some of the reasons for your continued involvement with JDC Entwine?
The first thing that comes to mind is history. JDC is an organization that my family has been involved with for a very long time. It was part of my upbringing. As I’ve grown, so has JDC. I continue to stay involved with Entwine, and JDC as a whole, because I believe in the mission of the organization. Entwine gives young Jews around the country, and really around the world, an outlet; a place to meet people of different backgrounds who are interested in similar things. Entwine also provides people with opportunities, just like mine, to go abroad and see the work they do to promote change in struggling communities. JDC is an outlet where there is none, and JDC Entwine is a way to keep young people involved in this process.
Was it your request or JDC’s to have you lead a trip? What are your responsibilities?
I would say that this was a mutual decision. I was looking for ways to get more involved with Entwine specifically with an international program. While in Gondar, we got chances to interact with many different JDC groups, from college students to young professionals to donors. I would have to say one of my favorites was the young professionals’ group like Inside Israel. JDC reached out to me and asked if I would co-chair one of their trips. I’ve seen their work in Israel and have been many, many times. To that end I consider myself a good resource to discuss their work there.
My responsibilities as co-chair will be to provide basic information about some of their programs as we visit them. Additionally I will be a resource, among others, for people to ask questions and engage. As I mentioned, I have a lot of experience working with JDC. I’ve played a role in recruitment for the trip and have worked with JDC staff to develop the itinerary and ensure the group is excited to get involved before and after the experience. Lastly, JDC needs someone who’s passionate and outgoing to develop cohesion among the group. I think I am a good resource for that.
What are you looking forward to experiencing, hearing, and learning more about on this trip?
I am looking forward to going back and seeing the evolution of JDC’s programs. Israel is an ever-changing landscape with evolving issues. None of my trips to Israel are ever the same. I look forward to seeing JDC’s new programs as well as the success of their older ones. I am also looking forward to reconnecting with JDC staff that I haven’t seen in some time. One thing that is close to my heart is the issue of asylum seekers in Israel. It’s a challenging topic and JDC is working with this population. There’s also a huge Ethiopian-Israeli population in Israel and I look forward to hearing about the continued process of their assimilation.
For this trip, and all other Entwine trips and opportunities, visit www.jdcentwine.org, or email email@example.com. For more information about JDC,visit www.jdc.org. The JDC is one of the exemplary organizations that receives funding from the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater.
by Laine Mednick Rutherford