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Rachel Figurasmith, 34, Pandemic Rapid Responder
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ACTIVISM36 Under 36 2021

Rachel Figurasmith, 34, Pandemic Rapid Responder

WeRepair.org/Brooklyn / Rachel Repair RTW 

The Jewish Week’s annual 36 Under 36 honors young leaders, entrepreneurs and change-makers who are making a difference in the life of Jewish New York. For the full list of this year’s “36ers,” click here.

What do you do?

I am the executive director of Repair the World NYC, where we engage thousands of Jewish New Yorkers and their communities in meaningful service and learning to meet pressing local needs. Under my leadership, NYC Repair has tripled in staff size and programmatic offerings. One of the most outstanding moments was our annual commemoration of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in 2021, when I led our team in a weekend of service that engaged nearly 5,000 people.

How did the pandemic affect your work?

I returned from parental leave the week the city shut down and quickly transitioned my team into a rapid response model. For the last year and a half, almost all of our efforts have focused on ensuring that our neighbors have access to healthy, culturally appropriate and sufficient food. I have led the launch of four new initiatives during the pandemic: transforming our office space into a distribution center and distributing over $50,000 of donated diapers (among other supplies); deepening relationships and mobilizing community in Crown Heights; developing a model of engagement for teens during the most isolating months of the pandemic; and engaging young adults in service and deep relationship building in some of the hardest hit neighborhoods of New York.

How does your Jewish identity influence your work?

Repair the World’s work is centered at the intersection of Judaism and justice, which is exactly how I am most connected to my Jewish identity. I am inspired by some specific values that are core to Repair: justice, solidarity and holding a both/and perspective. The combination of my traditional Conservative upbringing with my deep commitment to radically inclusive Jewish life shape how I lead Jewishly every step of the way.

What’s a fun fact about you?

I speak Swahili fluently.

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