You Should Know…Sam Sittenfield

Sam Sittenfield is a light-skinned man wearing a blue and purple plaid shirt and glasses. She has very short, curly brown hair.
Sam Sittenfield | Courtesy of Sam Sittenfield

Repair the World Director of National Partnerships Sam Sittenfield is fond of a quote spoken by the organization’s Senior Director of Education Rabbi Jessy Dressin: “Every time there is a specific Jewish value, there’s a nod to the universal.”

“Jewish values don’t live in a vacuum,” he added. “They are a
particular expression of things that everyone cares about.”

A 2022 Tribe 12 fellow, Sittenfield, 31, is also bringing his venture Roots of Resilience — a mental health organization for Jewish youth — to life.

Though his hands are in many pies, Sittenfield, a South Philadelphia resident, is looking for the harmony between the specific and universal in all he does: How can someone’s Jewish identity mesh with their political, racial and gender identity? How does one bring their Jewish values into the real world?

Sittenfield’s eight years of work at Repair the World gave him the opportunities to address these issues. On the day-to-day, he brings “the secret sauce,” or Repair the World’s social justice pedagogy, to other organizations, such as Hillel International, Moishe House and Honeymoon Israel, giving them insight on how young Jews want to connect politically and socially.

Most recently, Sittenfield has collected data from Hillel International interns in preparation for the launch of 200 new Hillel service engagement interns.

Sittenfield grew up steeped in the local Jewish community himself. Hailing from Lower Merion, Sittenfield was bar mitzvahed at Beth Am Israel in Penn Valley. He attended Perelman Jewish Day School before graduating to Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy (then Akiba Hebrew Academy).

He became a Repair the World fellow after graduating from Tufts University; he was involved in the Jewish community throughout his time as an undergraduate.

After attending area Repair the World events during college, Sittenfield’s interest was piqued: “I said to myself after going to those events, I have a lot to contribute in terms of my experience with Judaism and programming and things like that, and I have a lot to learn — a lot, a lot to learn — as it relates to social justice.”

Sittenfield’s passion for mental health and creating Jewish connectivity that he honed during his fellowship stemmed from first-hand experience.

During his time at Tufts, Sittenfield was a baritone for a Jewish a cappella group, Shir Appeal.

“We were all singing together and supporting each other both through song, but also through community,” Sittenfield said.

Sittenfield took a semester off from college during his second semester of senior year, due to his own mental health struggles. Taking a break meant stepping down as president of Shir Appeal.

“One of the other members of the group … took over the group with grace, with intelligence, with a great attitude,” Sittenfield said.

He felt proud “to be part of a community that supported me through the time that I needed them and didn’t make me feel bad or worse or less than.”

In his venture Roots of Resilience, Sittenfield hopes to design a mental health intervention for young people that is proactive, supporting them before they are in times of crisis.

“Currently, there’s a lot of focus on things like mental health first aid, which is extremely important, but that’s taking care of the emergency that happens at a given moment,”
Sittenfield said.

Sittenfield wants to address the root of mental health issues, which can stem from a lack of connectivity and isolation. While meditation, yoga and exercise facilitated by a group leader help relieve some stress, it’s addressing a symptom, not a cause, Sittenfield believes.

In designing Roots of Resilience — hoping to receive additional funding and interest as it develops — Sittenfield is asking himself big questions: “How do we use leadership development to cultivate competency, confidence, connection and community for our young people? How do we build that into our program structures both on a one-off program and over the course of a young person’s engagement with the Jewish community?”

For Sittenfield, he finds those moments around the Shabbat dinner table, singing harmonies with friends. He hopes to give others that same feeling of harmony in whatever Jewish path they pursue.

“How do we ensure that the fields are lush and healthy?” Sittenfield said. “That a small spark doesn’t cause a big fire?”

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