Race, Books, and Parenting in St. Louis: A JOIN for Justice alumni story

Laura Horwitz is having a conversation about race.

In fact, she’s having many conversations about race. In St. Louis, one of the most racially segregated cities in the country, Laura is organizing predominantly white families to confront racial inequity, white privilege, and diversity… through children’s books.

Laura, a Jewish Organizing Fellow from 2003 – 2004, started her organization, We Stories, to find a new way for addressing one of the most challenging subjects in our country today — and the response has been astounding. An increasingly widening circle of families, 550 and counting, are now consciously engaging with racism in their homes, with their children, as a community, and as vocal constituents in their local democracy. Currently a group from We Stories is studying the Ferguson Report together to determine what kind of action they can take as a community to make change.

JOIN alumni like Laura Horwitz are using their organizing training and mentoring to change the conversation on social justice across the country.

Please consider supporting JOIN with a gift today!

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Why this funder “don’t kvetch”

Myron Miller is helping build a better future, literally and figuratively.

As a generous philanthropist with the Herman and Frieda L. Miller Foundation, Myron is supporting civic engagement, advocacy, and community organizing in Greater Boston and Eastern Massachusetts.

As the principal at Miller Dyer Spears architecture, planning, and interior design firm, Myron is building state of the art structures to improve his city and surrounding communities.

And as a longtime funder of JOIN, Myron is helping train today’s and tomorrow’s social justice leaders. Not only has Myron been backing JOIN for 15 years, sustaining our work and building relationships with our Fellows – he also rolled up his sleeves and took our online training course Don’t Kvetch, Organize!

We exist because of our community of committed supporters like Myron.

Please consider supporting JOIN with a gift today!

 

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What 150 one on ones can do

by Rabbi Shuli Passow

Rabbi Shuli Passow is Director of Community Engagement at B’nai Jeshurun in New York City, and a Seminary Leadership Project alum.

Leading isn’t enough anymore. In our current political reality, we need more than just strong leaders – we need leaders who can nurture and develop other leaders. It’s not enough to stand up yourself – change won’t come if we don’t mobilize entire communities. Through my organizing training and mentorship with JOIN, I’ve been able to help B’nai Jeshurun, a nationally known New York City synagogue of 3500 households, expand the number of people involved in our justice work so that more of our community is united in taking action.
 
When I first arrived at BJ 2 1/2 years ago, my goal was simply to find out what my congregation cared about and what they wanted to work towards. I began by meeting with 150 congregants one on one, listening to their stories and identifying people who were ready to grow as leaders. This model of organizing wasn’t new to BJ; it has driven our justice work for the past 14 years. After our first listening campaign in 2003, larger campaigns organically emerged, covering everything from labor practices of farm workers in New York state, to making elder care more affordable and humane, to fighting for and winning reform of corporate waste hauling in NYC.
 
By taking an organizing approach to my work here, I’ve been able to build new leadership teams focusing on racial justice and immigrant rights. Right now, we have over 200 people responding to the urgent refugee crisis. There are lawyers providing pro-bono legal aid for immigrants. An investment banker thinking about how he could help refugees and asylum seekers find work in the U.S. He is building a team of other BJ members who want to assist, and they’re leveraging their huge number of professional contacts today – already placing 6 or 7 individuals in jobs, working closely with refugee settlement agencies to find more.
 
Most of the people involved in our justice work aren’t steeped in lifelong activism or organizing – they’re simply citizens stepping up to meet the moment.
 
Every step of the way, the mentorship of JOIN has been instrumental. Meir Lakein, JOIN’s Director of Organizing, was the person I spoke with to figure out if this was the right job for me in the first place, and I continue to work with him as a coach. He is the person who can say the least with the most impact. He asks “Why do you think that?” and my whole understanding of the situation completely opens up. Meir sees how the day-to-day work connects with the larger vision, helping me sort through what truly needs to get done. He helped me see that once the organizing was underway, I could step back and let the leaders in place move our work forward.
 
Our community is taking responsibility for the role we were called to play in the struggle for justice, with more members getting involved every day. It is amazing to look back and see what grew from those initial one on one meetings. Community organizing is often the invisible tool that allows for great change to occur. JOIN is training leaders like myself throughout the American Jewish landscape to organize and train leaders, who go on to train more leaders. And we’re just getting started.
 

Rabbi Shuli Passow
Director of Community Engagement, B’nai Jeshurun
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A Jewish Thanksgiving Prayer

By Shaya French

The author at Duxbury Beach, MA, near Pilgrim landing sites.

Shaya French is one of this year’s JOIN fellows and works as a community organizer at the Boston Center for Independent Living (disability advocacy and services). She grew up in Middleboro, MA 17 miles from where the Pilgrims first set foot on Wampanoag land. She comes from an interfaith family (Jewish and Unitarian Universalist) and is loving having JOIN as an opportunity to delve more deeply into her Jewish roots and the Jewish commitment for social change.

Today is a day of celebration. A celebration of being able to gather as a family and share amazing food. It is a celebration of living on land where we are able to freely practice our religion. We are a people who know about celebrations complicated by grief – charoset served with horseradish. So before we commence our many hours of celebration let us take several moments for mourning and truth-telling. For this Thanksgiving is also a symbol of great historical violence that continues to this day. From King Philips’ War to Standing Rock people who are indigenous to these lands have been killed, tortured, poisoned with toxic waste from industry, deprived of resources, and had their children stolen at every turn. In this current moment, this November 23rd 2017, we’ve watched many attempts to tear apart our social safety net, we’ve watched our neighbors being sucked away by ICE officials and violence directed at us and people we love every week. I fear that this presidency will resemble the fascist movement that killed many of my ancestors.

So let us grieve for the injustice done to our people. Let us grieve for the hatred and violence turned upon Jews, socialists, homosexuals and disabled people during the Holocaust.

Let us grieve the injustice done to indigenous people who live on the land where we hold this Thanksgiving feast. It was only through the Wampanoag’s support and education that the Pilgrims survived their first bitter winter. It was only because Massasoit saw the Pilgrims as a strategic ally in the Wampanoag’s conflicts against the Narragansetts that we gather here today on this land. For those of us who are perceived by the world as white people, let us take a moment to reflect on how we have benefitted from assimilating to whiteness and aligning ourselves with the Europeans who turned musket onto the children of those who had once been allies. European ancestors who were only able to imagine themselves as free in a new land if they “owned” that land and pushed off and killed its original inhabitants. We have nourished ourselves on stolen land. Nourishing ourselves is not wrong; nourishing ourselves without recognizing the cost that nourishment came, without atoning and properly appreciating all that went into creating our nourishment is wrong.

Let us be grateful for the land, for the ancestors who have gone before – complicated humans that they were – no more or less complicated than we know ourselves to be. Let us be grateful for the resources we have, for the good food we will eat today, and commit to sharing our food, our community, our love. Let us commit to truth telling and taking responsibility for our actions and our role.

And on this November 23, 2017 in the spirit of appreciation for all the Jewish and Gentile freedom fighters who resisted the Nazis on behalf of our ancestors; let us commit to resist fascism with all of our might.

Let us commit:
We will not trade our safety for the detainment of people who seem different from us. Never again.
We will not fail to speak up when we are given land, money, promotions and power at the cost of our humanity. Never again.
We will not fail to resist when we are told that some people are worth less because of their body, their gender, their politics, their religion or their nationality. Never again.
We will not fail to act when violence is turned against our siblings who share this land with us. Never again.

We will offer sanctuary to those who are being persecuted.
We will have hard conversations with our people with whom we don’t agree. We will speak up when our friends, colleagues and family members talk about how Muslims need to be put on some list; how Black people need to respect authority more; how immigrants need to go back where they came from.
We will witness the pain of others and not jump too fast to solutions when people share with us pain that is deeper than we can know.
We will tell the stories of when we have failed as allies and humans and strive to avoid righteousness.
We will take time to reflect and be strategic before we act, looking to marginalized leadership, and being careful to expend our energy and resources in strategic and impactful ways.
And we will reflect on the point at which if it comes to it we will take up weapons to resist a powerful and persecuting government that is bent on destroying and exporting those who are part of our communities.

In the coming months let us remember what we must do to protect our own humanity and never forgot how many people joined the resistance on our behalf in Nazi Germany.

Today let’s feast and celebrate that we are free and that we can come together. Tomorrow let us recommit ourselves to the struggle needed now more than ever.

The JOIN fellowship has given me a community of resistance fighters to build movements with. Two weeks ago, half of this year’s fellowship turned out in defense of Siham Biya, a Muslim mother, and friend of a member in our fellowship who is being detained by ICE. Who in your community are you building fellowship and resistance with?

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The Spirit of Justice

Our Clergy Fellows gathered at Pearlstone Center this November to begin their 18-month journey into deeper community organizing. Here are some of their personal stories and torah.

Rabbi Lydia Medwin of The Temple in Atlanta, Georgia, on her synagogue’s historic relationship with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and what it means today.
 

Rabbi Elliott Tepperman of Bnai Keshet in Montclair, New Jersey, on the liberating power of listening.
 

Rabbi Jen Feldman of Kehillah Synagogue in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, on being transformed by someone’s story.

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