Larissa Wohl Introduces Herself

By Larissa Wohl | Issue Date: March 2012

Larissa WohlHello! I’m Larissa Wohl, and I am excited to be the new Social Action Program Assistant working with Channa Camins in the SA/SJ Department. I am fortunate to be working with the co- chairs and volunteers of our CSA and our four direct-service programs: BJ Reads, the BJ/Ralph Bunche School tutoring partnership, the Judith Bernstein Lunch Program, and the BJ/SPSA Shelter. Despite having only been at B’nai Jeshurun for a few short months, I can already say that I’m beginning to feel a part of this community. As a former corps member in AVODAH: the Jewish Service Corps, I’m looking forward to grappling with similar issues around direct service and advocacy that both I and the nonprofit social service organization I worked for last year faced. How do we, as individuals and as part of a larger community, make a significant change for the 30,000 homeless men, women, and children in NYC every day? I’m proud to be working with a synagogue that is committed to social action and social justice; a synagogue that has created both direct service programming and advocacy initiatives designed to address this and other issues our society faces today.

Larissa Wohl and Channa Camins. Photo Credit: Denise WaxmanMy work last year in AVODAH with N Street Village, a community of empowerment and recovery for homeless and low-income women in Washington, D.C., had a huge impact on how I view work in direct service and advocacy. Through this amazing nonprofit, I had contact with women whose stories taught me so much about the struggles of our society’s most vulnerable individuals. One woman, with whom I worked and developed a very close relationship, is a current client and volunteer receptionist team leader in the Wellness Center. She, like many other Americans within the last few years, became sick, needed hospital care, and was subsequently fired from her job while in the hospital. Unable to afford her mortgage she lost her home and had nowhere to turn. She found herself at N Street Village where it took her many months before she regained the drive to get herself back on her feet and to involve herself in the community of women, but once she did, she found she was in a supportive, warm environment where she began to thrive. She began mentoring other women, started her own crocheting class, and took on more and more responsibilities. For her, an organization like N Street Village is helping her back to where she needs to be to move out on her own again. It is direct service at its best. Unfortunately, not all social-service organizations like N Street Village are as successful. Not all of them view homeless and low-income individuals as whole people. How do we replicate the organizations that are working? How do we utilize their models on a larger scale to affect change in a broader way?

My work this past year both solidified my faith in what social services are capable of accomplishing and forced me to continue thinking about how to reconcile the need for direct service and advocacy at the same time. It was difficult for me to want to affect change on a large scale, to fix the system which had failed many of the women I met, but to also focus on the daily needs. I’m looking forward to becoming part of an environment at B’nai Jeshurun that recognizes the need for both organizing community members and making a difference on an individual level, whether it’s reading with a child once a week or providing a safe and welcoming space for 10 women at the shelter. My work has only just begun, but the discussions and important conversations are ongoing and I can only imagine what’s in store.