Guidelines for Ethical Volunteer Service

Hillel International is a global organization dedicated to enriching the lives of Jewish students so that they may enrich the Jewish people and the world. One of our movement-wide values is “Ahavat Am Yisrael/Ahavat HaBeriyot” (Love of the Jewish People/Love of All Humanity). Our work is informed both by our love of the Jewish people and a commitment to be engaged global citizens dedicated to amplifying the good and repairing the broken in the Jewish community and the world. For many Jewish students, volunteer service can be a meaningful expression and practice of Jewish identity and a powerful tool to make a positive difference in the world. 

Hillel International has partnered with Repair the World to offer multiple opportunities for Jewish college students and Hillel professionals to lead and participate in volunteer service. Through experiences like alternative break service trips and Hillel’s Service Engagement Internship in partnership with Repair the World, hundreds of students around the world have transformative service experiences. As record numbers of students are participating in these initiatives, Hillel International has developed the below guidelines to acknowledge and mitigate the unintentional harm that can occur during volunteer service.

These guidelines are deeply informed by the work of OLAM and their Ethical Global Service Spectrum and they provide a framework for volunteers who are serving in a community that is not their own, both in North America and globally, to ensure that their service is meaningful, impactful, and aligned with the values of Hillel International

Humility // Anavah

Volunteer service work should be based on local needs and defined by local experts.  Know that the community being served is the expert on their experience. Volunteers should strive to be aware of their own biases and limitations, and the potential to perpetuate negative power dynamics through a sense of superiority and/or a desire to “rescue” or “save” by imposing their own solutions. Serving with humility entails deep listening and learning while prioritizing the agency of those in the community being served.

Relationships // Chavruta

Volunteer service work should strive for mutually beneficial relationships, where both the volunteers and the community being served have something to gain. Relationship building requires trust, empathy, and respect; and prioritizing time to get to know each other beyond the confines of the service activity. Relationship-building should begin before a specific service project is decided and continue long after the conclusion of any singular project.

Education // Chinuch

Volunteers should incorporate education and reflection into their service experience before, during, and after the specific service project/trip. Prior to the service activity, service participants must educate themselves about the community being served, the issues they are hoping to address, and the historical outcomes of similar service projects. These resources must include authors/viewpoints from the community being served. During the service experience, volunteers should take time to reflect and investigate the root cause of the issue areas where they are working. Education should also be reciprocal, with volunteers sharing their own knowledge and skills where appropriate and learning from local experts and cultural traditions.  

Justice // Tzedek

Volunteer service should be done in pursuit of justice. Service in pursuit of justice goes beyond simply providing aid or performing acts of kindness; it instead actively strives to locate the needed volunteer service within the broader context of systemic inequalities. Service in pursuit of justice includes a commitment to empowering and supporting marginalized communities, and lifting up solutions generated by those most impacted. Service in pursuit of justice requires volunteers to take follow-up action to challenge systems of oppression and promote a more just and equitable society.

Harm Reduction // Tikkun

Applying harm reduction principles to volunteer service entails acknowledging that in any situation where there is a service provider and a service recipient, there is an unequal power dynamic and potential for harm. To practice harm reduction, volunteers should strive to avoid practices that can perpetuate damaging narratives or disempower the community being served. Volunteers must ensure that they obtain consent to take photos, and that the  images and language they use to describe the community being served is neither exploitative nor appropriative. Volunteers should strive to be open to new perspectives, be flexible in response to changing needs, and engage in ongoing reflection and adaptation. If volunteers do cause harm, they must hold themselves accountable and seek t’shuvah (repair).