Author Archives: Malkie Schwartz

Malkie Schwartz

About Malkie Schwartz

Malkie Schwartz is the Director of the Institute of Southern Jewish Life’s (ISJL) Department of Community Engagement. Malkie joined the ISJL staff in 2009 to complete the mission of the ISJL by ensuring that in addition to educational, cultural and rabbinic opportunities, the ISJL can be a resource to Southern Jewish communities wishing to elevate the role that service plays in Jewish life. Since the department’s launch, the ISJL has introduced T.A.P. (Talk About the Problems), a conflict resolution/peer mediation program; Read, Lead, Succeed, a cross age reading program; and The Health Express, a peer-to-peer health education program, to schools in the Jackson, Mississippi metro area. In addition, the ISJL recently began partnering with a cohort of congregations to begin replicating these initiatives in their own communities. Malkie’s position at the ISJL was preceded by 5 years of experience serving as the founding executive director of Footsteps, a New York City based non-profit organization that provides educational, vocational, social and emotional assistance to people who are seeking to transition from an ultra-orthodox lifestyle into the mainstream world. Malkie is a graduate of Hunter College and Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. She is a Repair the World Fellow and currently lives in Jackson, MS. Malkie serves on the board of Jackson 2000, an organization that promotes racial harmony in Jackson.

Moving Mississippi Up

“Where do we start?”

KIDS_COUNT_logo_shakaThat’s a question I hear often from groups of people seeking to make an impact in their community. I can’t ever say I have the answer but I often suggest looking at the data and studying the community’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges.

Kids Count just released data from 50 states that ranks each state according to the well-being of families and children in the state. The state I live in, Mississippi, is on the bottom of that list—and not for the first time.

As someone who works in community engagement, teaming up with Jewish congregations and other committed partners to make meaningful and sustainable change, reports like this are important. They can also be disheartening. So when we are presented with data, we ask again: “Where do we start?”

Luckily, the data itself can help guide our tikkun olam efforts.

Jamie Bardwell, Program Director at the Women’s Foundation of Mississippi (an organization that has supported the ISJL’s peer mediation program, T.A.P.) points out that advancing in ranks requires that interconnected indicators are simultaneously addressed. In other words, to alleviate poverty, we cannot focus solely on job training for single mothers, or better education for their children, or access to affordable child care; we must work on all of these interconnected indicators of poverty.

One thing to point out is that there is hope. Even while Mississippi is ranked lowest, there is evidence of some improvement. And while we know we have our work cut out for us, we can use this data to create benchmarks. For example, Mississippi ranks 50th in the economic well-being of children. A total of 256,000 children, or 35% of all children living in Mississippi, live in poverty. As a starting point, what would it take to get us from 50th up to 49th in children’s poverty?

New Mexico currently sits at 49th with 29% of their children living in poverty. That means, if we can move approximately 43,000 children out of poverty, we could move up in our rankings. This might still seem daunting, but the data provides us with benchmarks and goals to strive toward. Ultimately, the goal is to reduce child poverty to 0% and that is an important goal to keep in mind. But, the data can help us push our state to move ahead in increments.

Have you looked at the data released about your state? Is there anything that surprised you? Are you and your congregation helping to move the needle in your state? If you are, please share what you are doing!

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Posted on July 23, 2014

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Because Education is a Jewish Value

msFor most Jews, education is a top priority. That’s one of the reasons our community engagement efforts are often focused on issues related to education—including the fact that throughout the nation, public schools are woefully underfunded.

Right now, there is an effort underway in Mississippi to make an “adequate” education a constitutional right. In 1997, the legislature passed the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP), a law that creates a formula to distribute adequate funds to school boards to be used to ensure an adequate education for all Mississippi children.

While the formula remains the law in Mississippi, there is no requirement that the legislature fund education according to that formula. In fact, this formula has only been fully funded twice and, in 2014, the gap between the funds necessary to adequately fund education and the funds that are designated by the legislature for education has widened starving Mississippi’s educational institutions.

Mississippi’s registered voters have the power to put an important issue to a vote through a ballot initiative called Better Schools Better Jobs-a petition to place a referendum on the 2015 ballot that will require the Legislature to fully fund education according to the formula set out in MAEP. If the 110,000 required signatures are collected, voters will be empowered to decide whether to amend the Mississippi constitution to require the adequate funding of education.

For Mississippians who can potentially take part in this effort, you can learn more about Better Schools Better Jobs here.

That’s what’s going on where I live, and one way my fellow citizens here can keep the activist spirit of Freedom Summer alive. Do you know whether education is adequately funded in your state? Please let us know what people in your state are doing to ensure that all children receive, at minimum, an adequate education.

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Posted on July 10, 2014

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May This Phenomenal Woman’s Memory Be a Blessing

maya_angelouThis morning, the world learned that we lost a great voice in literature and civil rights.

Maya Angelou was born in St. Louis, but raised in rural Arkansas. She lived many lives in many places, and died peacefully in her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. In its memorial to her published this morning, the New York Times hailed Angelou as a “lyrical witness of the Jim Crow South.” She was so much: a Southerner, a traveler, a poet, a dancer, an activist, a leader, a reader, a teacher, a champion. She used her words as a tool to inspire change.

Many of her quotes talk about how we approach service, and how we think about those “in need” in a more human, nuanced way. I chose this quote to think about today:

“My mother said I must always be intolerant of ignorance but understanding of illiteracy. That some people, unable to go to school, were more educated and more intelligent than college professors.”

May Maya’s memory be a blessing.

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Posted on May 28, 2014

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

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