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Tivnu: Building Justice


Explore Portland and the Pacific Northwest, discover new ways of seeing the world and your place in it, and work to make the world a better place. In the nine-month Tivnu Gap Year program, participants live together, create community, and explore connections between Judaism and social justice with their heads, hands, and hearts.

Tivnu: Building Tools for a Better World.

At Tivnu: Building Justice, we are driven by a sense of commitment to the Jewish concept of tzedakah. Often mistranslated as charity, the term derives from the Hebrew word for justice and fairness. Our goal is not to “give” our time and energy to those who are “less fortunate,” but to work together with others for a better world for us all. We act from the conviction that housing, food security, environmental justice, education, and the overall health of neighborhoods and communities are human rights.

Priority consideration for tuition assistance and for internship placement will be given to early applicants.


11th Ave
Portland, OR 97202
United States


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Yes, I recommend this program

I'm incredibly fortunate to have had the privilege to participate in Tivnu; it was truly a life-changing experience. In just nine months, I learned so much about myself and the issues that plague vulnerable populations in society; issues I want to dedicate my life to working on. As an introvert and Jewish woman who is passionate about social justice and repairing the world, this program gave me the space to learn with other passionate people and develop skills such as team building, leading, organizing, how to articulate opinions on issues, how to deal with conflict, how to live with others, how to look at issues from a holistic perspective, how to reserve judgement and try to understand the factors that make it more challenging for certain populations to navigate our society, the list goes on.

While I kept myself busy in high school with numerous choirs and community service activities, as a quiet, quirky person, I was never super social and experienced a lot of teasing and bullying. For the first time, I found a group of people who accepted me for who I was, which was really quite beautiful. I'm incredibly grateful for the friendships I've made through Tivnu and for the opportunities I was given to explore my interests in social justice with hands-on experiences at social service organizations in Portland, Oregon. Tivnu is such a unique program, especially for young adults post-high school, in that it matches each student with meaningful internships based on their interests. I worked at an HIV center, a day shelter for women and children, and a non-profit café that works to provide nourishing meals for primarily houseless people. Through these immersing internships, I created such strong relationships with staff and clients and was able to really get a sense of the ways in which society needs to do better, in terms of our inaccessible healthcare system, food system, mental health system, transportation system, housing system etc. On Fridays, all of the participants came together with Tivnu’s construction coach to gain construction/building skills and we worked together (primarily in a tiny house village for formerly houseless people called Hazelnut Grove) helping to repair and build where we were needed. I had zero construction experience before coming to Tivnu, so it was extremely fascinating for me to be introduced to all of the tool and skills and form relationships with people at Hazelnut Grove.

The educational programming, planned and led by Tivnu’s brilliant program coordinator, allowed the nine of us to really engage with these social justice issues. We went to hear profound speakers, watched films, toured different non-profits, and many more interactive and accessible learning methods to expose us to these ills and brainstorm ways to combat them. As a busy high school student, I rarely had time to even think about things other than school. Tivnu’s gap year program allowed me to explore some of my other interests. In addition to working at my internships and attending the educational explorations, I joined a local community choir, learned to knit, watched many musical movies, cooked and explored the wonderful city of Portland and the natural beauties that surround it. As part of the program, we went on several trips as a Tivnu family, where we went hiking, camping, white water rafting, snow-shoeing, cross-country skiing, saw gorgeous waterfalls, mountains, and exquisite wildlife.

I came from a Conservative (sect of Judaism) Jewish and politically liberal background, so it was really empowering and interesting to live with a group of people with varied perspectives, Jewish identities, social identities and interests. My peers taught me so much about the world and about the diversity of the Jewish community as a whole. Connecting secular social justice issues to Jewish values and concepts was really interesting. Being surrounded by so many different opinions and personalities, while challenging at times, really pushed me to celebrate our differences and realize that I can be great friends with even those who are most different from myself. I learned that our commonalities are stronger than our differences. That it’s more important to step outside my comfort zone and try something new, something maybe a bit scary at first.
Now, as a first-year student at Mount Holyoke College in western Massachusetts, I feel so privileged to have experienced Tivnu, because it instilled in me so many life-long skills and values while also preparing me for my college experience. Tivnu allowed me to work on my communication skills and while I’m still working on them and probably will be for a long time, I feel a lot more comfortable than I did at the beginning of my Tivnu experience. I feel more comfortable expressing my opinion on a social justice issue, more comfortable talking in groups about things I’m passionate about, more comfortable living with a lot of people, more comfortable in engaging in conflicting situations etc. I would highly recommend Tivnu to any students passionate about social justice who feel they need a break from the stresses of traditional education for a year to explore their interests and gain valuable experiences working to make social change, while also building meaningful friendships and community.

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Yes, I recommend this program

Everyone in our family has done a gap year. My husband and I each spent a year in Israel, and our daughter spent a year in D.C. with City Year. So, we know a thing or two about what makes a good gap year experience. Sam and I recently visited our son, Nadav (his review is above) in Portland, to visit him while he's on his gap year with Tivnu. We were already impressed by the program, based on what we'd been hearing from Nadav, but we came away amazed.
Our first morning in Portland, Erik, the Tivnu Construction Trainer, picked us up in the Tivnu van and drove us to the construction site where Nadav and his cohorts have been working with Habitat for Humanity. Two days a week, (or more, depending on interest and other placements) they work alongside other volunteers. Nadav showed us the support beams on the front porch that he had installed, the drywall he had helped to hang, and the concrete he had mixed and poured. One of the homes was near completion, and Nadav pointed out the bedroom that will soon be inhabited by a young child. This is life-changing work, and Nadav will never take having a roof, walls, or a place to call home for granted.
But the pride I felt at the Habitat site doesn’t compare to the awe I experienced when Nadav told us over dinner that he had recognized a lot of people as we wandered around downtown Portland, but he only gave a brief nod to them because they were with other people, and he knew them either from his internship at Sisters of the Road Café (a unique sort of Soup Kitchen) or The Living Room, an outpatient support place for people battling mental illness and/or addiction. Nadav, and his friends who work at similar placements, are learning firsthand that a kind word, and respect, can make a difference to anyone facing challenges.
And, all this, in Portland! Nadav was a great tour guide, and took us to his favorite street, (Alberta), spot (Hawthorne) and sweets (Blue Star donuts). We visited the Farmer’s Market at PSU, hiked a little in Forest Park, crossed the St. Johns Bridge over the Willamette River (or so they tell me, I could not look down), ate at a vegan café, rode a bunch of buses, and fell in love with the city.
We experienced the pre-Shabbat cooking and cleaning bustle at the Tivnu house, and sat down to a lively dinner for twenty, including Tivnu staff and family members. We heard stories about their recent trip to Seattle as well as their trip to Mt. Hood earlier in the month. We heard the kind of “you had to be there” jokes that are the hallmark of a tight community.

I simply could not design a better gap year program. It offers community, informal learning, Jewish holidays and Shabbat celebrated with joy and creativity, a few adult eyes and/or shoulders for guidance or consultation, all while doing incredibly meaningful work. I’m incredibly proud of Nadav, and I’m delighted that he’s had the opportunity to be a part of Tivnu: Building Justice.

What would you improve about this program?
Based on my son's feedback, and our visit, I'm not sure I'd change anything. Seriously.
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Yes, I recommend this program

Tivnu has given me the chance to explore my interests and passions in a supportive environment. I have learned so much about myself and how I interact with others, as well as how to better interact with others. Through my internship, my desire to teach has been reinforced. As a part of the Tivnu program, I spent two days a week working at a school for adults who are working to get their GED. I was a tutor on the academic team, and I worked with students of many different backgrounds and education levels. I gained a great deal of perspective and understanding about people who, although they are the same age as me, have had incredibly different life experiences. On my last day, one of my students gave me a scarf that she had made for me, and many others told me they were grateful for the help I had provided them and for the effort I had put into them and their education. That was an incredible moment for me, and many other moments throughout my year at Tivnu have been that way. Tivnu has given me direction, confidence, and a huge network of interesting and hardworking people who I know I can count on in the future. Thank you Tivnu!!!

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Yes, I recommend this program

You should never believe someone when they say “oh yeah best time of my life woohoo" except when I'm saying it because I'm being honest! These past nine months have been so transformative. I volunteered at three different places every week, and Tivnu did a great job of pairing me up with placements that were right for me. It was nice three days a week to volunteer independently, but to also have two days with other Tivnu members ("Tivnoodles"!) working together at Habitat (the 3:2 ratio was one I got to choose). Beyond that, all the programming we've had has been excellent. It keeps us busy, but everything we do feels worth it. We've met so many interesting local leaders, fascinating creatives, and inspiring non-profits. We always find a way to add some Jewish flavor, but it never feels forced. Jewish holidays are super fun! We always do something special, and everyone gets a say. We've gone on a bunch of awesome outdoor trips, which are highlights for me. Finally, life at the house ("bayit") is really great. I was pretty skeptical of how the dynamics would work, but the staff set us off on the right foot, and we all ended up working and living really well together. Every group meal we have feels like a feast, and Friday nights are especially...special? The house itself is great, in a beautiful neighborhood, but still in a central location of Portland! I love Tivnu so so so much!!!

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Yes, I recommend this program

Tivnu has been without a doubt the best year of my life. I have grown and been able to focus on what I want to do with my life, and it has opened my eyes to new things I would have never thought of doing or even thought possible. Almost everyone in the program and all the staff seemed hand picked to make this gap year absolutely wonderful. While working at Habitat for Humanity, I remember we were tasked with creating a bin to hold the scrap wood that was too small or messed up to use in building the houses, but that could be saved and used as burnable wood. I suggested an idea and my design was fully supported with only minor changes made by the construction trainer so that it would work. It ended up working out so well that we built three more of them. I would very highly recommend this program to almost anyone, especially anyone who enjoys working with their hands and doing social justice. This has been the best year of my life, and I can't wait to see how many more people's lives get improved by this amazing program.

What would you improve about this program?
I love every part and can not think of any ways they could.


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Staff Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with program leaders.

Rebecca Mather

Job Title
Resident Advisor
Rebecca Mather hails from the greater Chicago area. A social justice professional with experience in group processing and nonviolent communication, she helps the gap year participants navigate through the rewards and challenges of communal living.

What is your favorite travel memory?

Rebecca Mather

Professional Associations

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