New Jersey Rabbis Demand Gun Action During Hanukkah

This past December, rabbis from the New Jersey cohort of the Clergy Fellowship partnered with Jersey City Together on a major call to action which brought more than 500 people, including Jersey City’s Mayor Steven M. Fulp, to a Baptist church.

Jersey City Together, a nonpartisan organization consisting of 35 religious congregations and nonprofits, coordinated the interfaith action which took place at New Missionary Baptist Church and sought to urge elected officials to move quickly on finding solutions to the lack of affordable housing and gun violence in the city and around the state.

The action also created an opportunity for many to speak about the immediate and long term challenges facing city residents. Rabbi Elliott Tepperman, a current Clergy Fellow, spoke on strategies for addressing gun violence and about what happens when our leaders fail to show up.

Rabbi Elliott Tepperman proclaimed, “Congress is not the only path to change. We have our own leverage. When we started the Do Not Stand By Idly campaign we discovered that forty percent of the guns sold in America are bought with our tax dollars.”

Do Not Stand By Idly is an interfaith network of individuals and groups working for social change. Their work also revealed that the US military buys about 25% of the guns with law enforcement participating in another 15% of the purchases.

“With New Jersey Together taking the lead,” Rabbi Elliott continued, “we gathered 130 mayors from across this country and we said we are going to demand accountability from the gunmakers, and together we demanded simple things like investing in gun safety, smart gun technology, and refusing to distribute guns to gun shops whose guns are disproportionately used in crimes. These are small measures, and with or without Congress they will save thousands of lives per year.”

Listen to Rabbi Elliot’s entire call to action here.

Rabbi Faith Joy Dantowitz, also a Clergy Fellow, closed the meeting with prayer as participants ignited electric candles to signify the hope that comes with organizing for change, and to commemorate the last night of Hanukkah. The rabbis brought 25 members of their congregations with them.  Before the action, JOIN trained the congregants to understand the distinction between the action and rallies that they were more used to. Simply put, actions demand specific changes on a specific issue while rallies make a statement and focus on changing the narrative in the public sphere. 

Since the action, Jersey City Together, Christian leaders, and JOIN’s New Jersey rabbinic cohort met earlier this month with Governor Philip Dunton Murphy and Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal to press them to release state data that reveals which brands of illegal guns are mostly used in violent crimes. This information will be key to working side-by-side with the interfaith coalition to hold gun manufacturers accountable for irresponsible distribution practices.

The meeting with Attorney General Grewel would not have been possible if Rabbi Jen Schlosberg — who learned how to organize through her involvement in the JOIN Clergy Fellowship — did not take the Attorney General up on his offer to meet, following her vigil for the Pittsburgh tragedy in November of last year. Rabbi Jen nimbly led the pursuit and was responsible for securing the meeting between the Attorney General and Jersey City Together.  

We are so proud of the work our Clergy Fellows are doing to lift up social justice in prayer and in reality.

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Amendment 4 in Florida passes, restoring voting rights to 1.4 million Floridians

Six weeks ago 1.4 million Floridians could not vote due to a felony disenfranchisement provision in the Florida state constitution, a law dating back to the Jim Crow era. But, on November 6, 2018, the historic Amendment 4 was passed, restoring the right to vote for these individuals — nearly 10% of the state — and changing politics in Florida, and in the United States, forever.

JOIN is humbled to have been a small part of the huge multi-faith, multicultural, and even multi-partisan effort in Florida that worked to pass Amendment 4. JOIN served as trainer, coach, strategist and digital media support for the Religious Action Center, the National Council of Jewish Women, the Anti-Defamation League, and a network of rabbis and Jewish community leaders who worked throughout 2018 to organize their communities in support of Amendment 4. Between our focused in-person organizing and broader digital campaign, we ultimately reached over 180,000 Floridian Jews in the months before the election, helping deliver a resounding yes to the work started by the Second Chances coalition years ago. It was the third largest enfranchisement in U.S. history. Check out the voter pledge page and messaging that JOIN produced for the Jewish Coalition for Amendment 4 here, and read about the Jewish Coalition’s work in Haaretz and the Forward!

Rabbi Judy Kempler of Temple Beth Am in Miami, a leader in the Reform movement, worked alongside colleagues and lay leaders to mobilize her congregation in support of the Amendment. Together they hosted house meetings and spoke to countless members about our tradition’s teachings on forgiveness. Rabbi Kempler was a 2015 participant in JOIN’s online course, Don’t Kvetch, Organize!, and she is a part of our movement to embolden Jewish leaders to organize for justice.

During a time when many of us have been questioning the strength of our democracy, our work in Florida reminds us that organizers and organizing make our democracy stronger.

We are prepared to continue building our democracy by training hundreds of individuals each year in organizing skills, helping them win key campaigns and initiatives across the country. With your help, we can shift the landscape for good. Please consider contributing to JOIN for Justice to ensure that the Jewish community’s voice is heard on our country’s most pressing social justice issues today.

Support JOIN’s Mission with a Donation

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Grieving and standing together

“The harvest is past, the summer has ended, and we are not saved.” (Jeremiah 8:20)

We are in grief, mourning with others across the country along with the Pittsburgh Tree of Life community. We grieve the loss of 11 precious lives, pray for the wounded, and extend our condolences to the families and friends confronting this horror.

We lament the reminder, written in blood, that, in spite of all the hope and solidarity cultivated by leaders of so many communities across the country over these past years, we are all decidedly still not saved.

Yesterday there were five burials. They were for four of the eleven Jews killed in Pittsburgh on Saturday and one of the two Black people killed in Kentucky last week.

  • Jerry Rabinowitz, a doctor, remembered for treating gay AIDS patients with skill and humanity at the height of the epidemic.
  • Cecil and David Rosenthal, brothers, who greeted people at the door of Tree of Life synagogue every Shabbat, beloved by all.
  • Daniel Stein, remembered as a devoted grandfather, father, husband, and former president of the synagogue.
  • Maurice Stallard, father of the Chief Racial Equity officer for the city of Louisville, who was bringing his grandson to get supplies for a school project when he was shot.

ז״ל May their memory be a blessing.

The many who say these murders should not be “politicized” wish that we not put them in any context. That we understand these murders to be isolated incidents – that we turn a blind eye toward the interconnectedness of thousands of outrages before these latest ones ­- rather than recognizing they are perpetrated not only on Jews because they are Jewish, but on Jews and non-Jews who are people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ, Muslim, and countless other targeted identities.

In context, these murders are the latest strikes of white nationalists trying to hold off the forging of an America that values difference. These white nationalists look at freedom, justice, and kindness and see only a plot to regard Black and brown people as worthy of full human dignity, a plot orchestrated by nefarious Jews.

Clear-eyed, once we wipe away our tears, we see how, now more than any time in recent memory, white nationalists have been encouraged, validated, and incited by the words of political leaders and media figures who are irresponsible at best. In public life, we are judged by what we do more than what we feel; how these leaders may personally feel about individual Jews is far outweighed by whether their actions further white nationalism or smash it.

We stand with the Pittsburgh community as we stand with all those around the country who have faced this darkness again and again; stand with the long line of ancestors who have seen this before, and gave their lives so that we may live today.

In our organizing training we teach that change requires power, and that the most trustworthy, generative, and sustainable power is built, not through control, but by organizing larger and larger webs of relationships, combined into communities acting in concert. Already we are seeing this in action: The Islamic Society of Pittsburgh has raised more than $125,000 to cover the funeral costs of all the local victims. Here in Boston, Jewish communities have received heartfelt pledges of solidarity from their partners in local Black churches.

As we continue to grieve, we will also redouble our efforts. Knowing that no act of hate stands alone, disconnected. Knowing that, as others have shown up for us as Jews, we too must continue to show up, louder and more powerfully, for others targeted by hate. We need this web of relational power to continue to expand, in the face of all the threats, and we are responsible to play our role in continuing to build it.

Because we will only be saved when all of us are saved.

Yours,

Elana Kogan                                 Phil Rosenblatt
Acting Executive Director,            Board President,
JOIN for Justice                           JOIN for Justice

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Siyyum Graduation 2018: Making the Impossible Irresistible

On June 25th, close to 200 people gathered to celebrate both our 13 graduating Jewish Organizing Fellows and JOIN’s 20th anniversary at our Siyyum Graduation. The evening was a beautiful gathering to support our graduating 2017-2018 Jewish Organizing Fellows, with family and friends coming from far and wide, as well as alumni from all eras of JOIN’s history showing up in full force. See photos from the evening here (and please tag yourself!), and watch each of our Fellows tell a story from their year as a Jewish Organizing Fellow below. In the Fellows’ own words:

“We are making the impossible irresistible. Over the past 10 months, we have created the sort of connection that allows us to dream in the face of stark realities. That’s what we’re celebrating here – the small miracle of a group of people who, in the face of the pain, tragedy, and hopelessness in this world are able to dance, to laugh, to pray. To love… Tonight, we embrace the idea that we should dream. We honor our communities and ancestors who refused to believe only in the “now,” and instead, looked to the “then” in order to survive. We hope that today we can give you a taste of what it might mean to look beyond what we’ve accepted in the past – fear, isolation, and “inevitable” inequities. We hope that you, too, can make the impossible irresistible.”

~except from our Siyyum Program book, Making the Impossible Irresistible

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In Conversation with Miles Meth

Miles Meth, JOIN Jewish Organizing Fellowship alum ’16-17

After years of organizing, Harvard graduate students voted to unionize. Miles Meth, organizer with Harvard Graduate Students Union – United Auto Workers, was instrumental in helping achieve this landmark victory. We caught up with him this month to hear the full story.

JOIN: Congratulations on the Harvard Graduate Students Union win! How did this happen?

MM: Sure, so about 4 years ago there was a group of grad students at Harvard who came together to organize around a specific issue, which was teaching section sizes. Teaching fellows were getting overwhelmed with the size of their teaching sections, and figured they would be able to do their jobs better and have their lives be more manageable if they had smaller teaching section sizes. So they ran a mini-campaign and won that fight, and were able to reduce their section sizes. And after that it was a moment of realizing their own power. And so people started to come together and look at examples of what’s going on in some other schools, thinking about, “Hey, maybe a labor union is really the way to consolidate and formalize this power we’ve seen from this small victory.”

So I think it was in the summer of 2015 that this group of grad workers that was informal formed an organizing committee, had a vote on if they wanted to affiliate with United Auto Workers, and that was over 90% yes. My understanding is the reason it went that way is because the UAW, out of the unions that they had reached out to, was the union that showed the biggest commitment to actually providing resources, and showing that they really meant business, in terms of supporting them. And in 2016, the grad workers at Columbia University overturned a precedent that said that graduate student workers at private universities were not workers. Before, when it said they weren’t workers, they technically didn’t have the right to unionize through the official legal and National Labor Relations Board.

The UAW threw support behind those workers at Columbia, which was quite a risk, because they didn’t officially have the right to form a union. They went through every step of the National Labor Relations Board process. It’s kind of like taking something to the Supreme Court – the Supreme Court of labor – and they overturned that precedent. So the UAW was supporting those grad students at Columbia who took a risk and flipped the precedent, and the UAW, funny enough, it sounds strange – United Auto Workers, grad students, what do they really have in common, but there’s a pretty rich tradition of academic organizing in the UAW, and more grad students are organized with UAW – about 45% – than any with any other union in the country.

What does it practically mean for Harvard Grad workers? What are the tangible results?

That’s a good question. This teaching section sizes thing happened, organizing committee decided to go with the UAW, and then since then, that was in late 2015, since then there was a long process that involved two separate union elections, the first of which was invalidated because Harvard left off several hundred names from the list of voters, so that was in fall 2016, that election happened. The NLRB basically said, that election is null and void, you have to have a new one, and that is what happened most recently.

In terms of getting to your second question of what does this mean, I mean there are a couple things this means. This campaign was really an issues driven campaign. Probably the most important things to focus on are, one, to think about the question of who decides. Before having a union, every single decision about pay, health care, working conditions, what kinds of resources grad students are going to have, whether that’s a Title IX office or resources for international students or whatever, were decisions being passed down from high level administrators. So when grad students come into school they get a letter that says this is going to be your pay your first year and then anything can happen in the years after.

With a union, grad students now have a mechanism to collectively bargain, so Harvard needs their consent to make any changes to pay or healthcare. So now when a grad student comes in for grad school, they’re better able to plan for their future by knowing, hey this is what my stipend will be year to year, this is what my raises are gonna be.

So in terms of long-term planning, it gives grad students that stability and security of knowing what their pay is gonna be year to year, and knowing that they’re gonna have raises built in. For instance, last year Harvard said the endowment didn’t do as well as they would have liked, and so they raised the cost of housing for everyone living in Harvard housing by 3%, which is pretty typical and keeps up with the cost of inflation. But they only increased grad students’ stipends by 1.5%. So for anyone living in Harvard housing they effectively took a pay cut. That’s one example of the kind of thing that couldn’t happen with a union contract, and we know that’s true because the unionized workers at Harvard all got their regularly scheduled raises.

So that’s the stuff around pay specifically. I think another big piece of this that’s an issue around the country right now that we’re seeing through the #MeToo movement is the issue of sexual harassment. Harvard is no exception to this. There recently was a big case that was brought back to national attention through an article in Chronicle magazine, of a professor in the Department of Government, Jorge Dominguez, who in the 80s had been accused of sexually harassing some students, and had been reprimanded by the university. And then since then, it was just a slap on the wrist, he had maintained his post and continued to be harassing people, and it was just shown that comments from students on evaluations and stuff were getting swept under the rug. And so a lot of, especially, women on the organizing committee made sexual harassment protections really a central issue to this campaign. So there are a couple of ways that having a union can provide protections.

In the case of sexual harassment, any victim would have the right to a third party arbitration process. So having somebody who’s not connected to the union, not connected to the university, oversee that process in a fair way. As it stands right now, the Title IX office can have the best intentions and have a Title IX officer who’s competent, kind, and do everything right, but ultimately they’re answering to their boss’ boss, who is the president of the university, or who is on the board of trustees of the corporation of Harvard. This is obviously a conflict of interest, as these people are interested in protecting the Harvard brand. If it comes down to professor vs. grad student, there’s a power dynamic there in which the university has an interest in protecting the name of a professor or somebody who brings in a lot of grants rather than one grad student. So having a third party arbitrator can be a really powerful process, and we’ve seen that work at places like the University of Connecticut (another UAW school), where a woman who left her position because of harassment got her job back by using a third party arbitration case through the union.

What were some of your personal organizing efforts to help make this happen?

Probably my biggest success or gratifying experience I had was with the Physics Department. So in the previous election that was invalidated, the Physics Department was a very tough place to organize. One of the most vocal anti-union grad students came out of the Physics Department. He created a whole blog, and basically the culture of the department was such that it was extremely unpopular to be publicly supportive of the union.

So when I came in about nine months ago, there was one grad student in physics who was willing to be publicly pro-union. And even he was very nervous to send emails to the department, or talk to his coworkers about it, just felt extremely nervous about that. And so, I mean it was a process over a series of months, bit by bit, working with him to start by – “OK, who’s one other person that you know that’s pro-union that we can talk to?” And then having that conversation, working with them to build a smaller network and talk to that person’s friend that they know is quietly pro-union. And by the end of the campaign a group of 11 grad students signed a letter to the department expressing their support and telling people to get out and vote. So going from one person to 11 was an extraordinary process, and ultimately, you know, there’s nothing fancy about organizing. It’s people talking to one another over time, having multiple conversations, figuring out what issues matter, and realizing that when they come together they have some ability to change them. But it’s just a lot about building trust. I think just something that feels really cool, being at the vote count, there’s just this feeling of sitting across from Harvard’s lawyers, who they hired from Morgan Brown & Joy, who are a thousand bucks an hour, and in the face of the power that Harvard has through organized money, knowing that actually there’s only so much they can do through that. They have a lot of power in money, but we have power in our relationships with one another. And having thousands upon thousands of conversations with each other, and in this case that was enough to beat out that money and win this election. It’s a really great feeling.

Did you use any of your JOIN training in this campaign?

Absolutely. I think about the trainings I got from JOIN and how they’ve been embedded in my organizing all the time. Everything from power mapping to how to have an effective one on one. I think a big piece I took from being a JOIN Fellow was what I would call relationality, or relational culture. Under times of extreme pressure, maintaining your own humanity and the humanity of the people you’re working with. So I, as a staff organizer, was making a lot of asks of grad students who were volunteering their time for the most part, to this effort and to this movement. In that sense the leadership development piece, I definitely remember those trainings, and thinking about how, bit by bit, what are small specific asks that I can have of people that I think they can do, that are asks that I’m not asking them to do something that I wouldn’t do, that I think are reasonable, and that I feel that I can actually support them in. So I definitely remember components of that leadership development training that we had, that just showed that if you make a huge ask of somebody, especially if it’s broad and unspecific – the worst that you can ask somebody is, “Hey, do you want to get more involved in organizing?” People are always gonna say no, I’m too busy, I’ve got all these other things going on. If you come to somebody with a list of people in their department and say, “Hey, are there three people here who you think that we can pick out and have conversations with in the next week?” That more specific, more targeted, more reasonable, is always gonna be what gets people to actually feel like they have a stake in it, first of all, and also that they’re able to contribute.

Miles Meth is an organizer with Harvard Graduate Students Union – United Auto Workers, and a JOIN Jewish Organizing Fellowship alum ’16-17. Read more about the vote to unionize in the Boston Globe and the Harvard Crimson.

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