Anger to Action: Youth Organizing Against Gun Violence Training in Montclair, NJ

JOIN is deeply moved by the youth organizing and mobilizing nationwide in response to gun violence. On March 11, JOIN’s New Jersey Clergy Fellowship cohort, led by Rabbi Elliott Tepperman, sponsored a community organizing training to support teens from their synagogues and other congregations who were organizing actions including school walkouts and the March for Our Lives.

A diverse group of 40 young people from throughout New Jersey gathered at the First Congregational Church of Montclair. It was multiracial and multifaith with Jews, Christians and Muslims participating. The ground rules asked that the 12 adults who also attended leave the conversation, organizing and strategizing to the teens.

In their evaluation at the end of the training, the teens used words to describe their feelings like: equipped, powerful, energized, needed, and heard.

We’d like to acknowledge Rabbi Elliott Tepperman and Rabbi Ariann Weitzman of Bnai Keshet, Montclair, NJ, Frank McMillan of New Jersey Together, and Archange Antoine of Faith in New Jersey for leading the training, managing to connect and cover a ton of material on how to take action, build power and prepare for a specific action all in just a couple of hours. Thanks to Rev. Ann Ralosky for hosting, and to our NJ Clergy Fellow cohort, Rabbis Joel Abrahams, Faith Joy Dantowitz, Jesse Olitzky, and Jen Schlosberg for helping organize the event and generate turnout. Special thanks to lead JOIN trainer Jeannie Appleman and the Do Not Stand Idly By initiative to stem gun violence, one of the key initiatives that the NJ Clergy cohort is engaged in.

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“Time’s Up Wendy’s March”: Action for Coalition of Immokalee Workers

by Hannah Silverfine

I hate sitting still. And spending 12 hours on a bus in one day is not fun for anyone. But that was far from my mind when I signed up for the Northeast bus to New York City to join the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) in their “Time’s Up Wendy’s March” on March 15th.

Time’s Up Wendy’s March, NYC

As a freshman in college, I was drawn to groups that seemed to make a difference in the world through creative and practical strategies. The Real Food Challenge (RFC) was one such group — a movement of students nationwide working to shift the purchasing of food in university dining halls towards more sustainable and fair sources.

Hannah at first Wendy’s boycott

Which is how I found myself shivering on a cold day in March outside a Wendy’s fast food restaurant in Baltimore, Maryland at my first boycott. Our weekend-long RFC training was focused on student power and building campaigns at our schools, and rooted the work in systemic problems, connecting our purpose to that of our allies and partners, such as the CIW. I learned about the mistreatment of farmworkers, and the deep organizing that had been done for generations to create initiatives like the Fair Food Program, calling for fair wages and humane working conditions.

At the same training in Baltimore I met and marched with another Hannah. She and I stayed in touch, each organizing at our respective campuses in New England, and intersecting in the world of food justice. Years later as a senior, we marched together again, this time in Columbus, Ohio, with the same purpose — “Boycott Wendy’s”. I was working on growing the real food movement and organizing students to attend actions with allies, and Hannah was applying to the JOIN for Justice Jewish Organizing Fellowship program.

JOIN alumni Hannah Weinronk (’16-17), author Hannah Silverfine (’17-18), and Rachel Leiken (’16-17)

All of a sudden it’s 2018 and I’ve been here before, but I’m not glad about it. Standing among beautiful, bright, yellow banners, surrounded by masses of people from different walks of life, chanting the refrain that speaks for itself: “Boycott Wendy’s”. This time, a five day fast culminated in 2,000 farmworkers and their allies marching down the streets of Manhattan. This time specifically targeting Nelson Peltz, the decision makers and shareholder for the company. I march as a current JOIN Fellow, alongside JOIN alumni, and watch as one of our JOIN trainers, Rabbi Toba Spitzer, stands at a podium with other faith-leaders supporting the farmworkers. In that moment I marveled at the many ways JOIN has intersected parts of my life, both intentionally and unintentionally, reflecting the deep community of relationships it fosters.

There is a lot to learn about power and hope from the incredible organizing that the CIW has done over the years. One of the central things I have internalized from their work is how to be a good ally. I don’t want to ever have to chant “Boycott Wendy’s” again, but if the CIW asks me to, I will.

Hannah with group of Clark University students she organized in 2016

Hannah Silverfine is a current JOIN Organizing Fellow living in Somerville, MA.

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Training with the North Carolina Congress of Latino Organizations

Exciting happenings in North Carolina with our Clergy Fellows! On February 10, Ivan Parra, the organizer of our North Carolina partner organization North Carolina IAF, conducted an immigrant organizing training at current Clergy Fellow Rabbi Larry Bach’s synagogue, Judea Reform in Durham. Around 80 Latino leaders from the North Carolina Congress of Latino Organizations and eight of Rabbi Bach’s Spanish-speaking congregants attended. Judea Reform is already part of the local IAF group Durham CAN, which is partnering with the immigrants rights group.

The immigrant leaders that day decided to do a 400 person action before the sheriff’s race on May 8th to press for equality access to quality education for immigrants and to decriminalize the treatment of immigrants. We will keep you posted as the action develops. Ivan plans to conduct similar trainings for emerging immigrant leaders, JOIN Clergy Fellows, and local lay leaders in areas where other Clergy Fellows are working, such as Winston-Salem and Chapel Hill. We are excited to continue organizing together to improve immigrants rights.



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In Conversation with Emily Bloch

Emily Bloch, JOIN alum ’14-15

Hello Emily! Can you tell us about what you’re working on right now?

Yes, I work for an immigrant rights movement called Movimiento Cosecha, which means Harvest Movement in Spanish. We’re an immigrant rights movement fighting for permanent protection, respect, and dignity for all 11 million undocumented immigrants. I currently work and live in Texas, as part of a the Volunteer Organizer Network (VON) which is a group of full-time unpaid organizers working with Cosecha.

How did you come to this position?

My JOIN placement was with a faith-based organizing group called the Merrimack Valley Project, and through that organization I started working on a drivers license campaign for undocumented immigrants in Massachusetts. Through that work and the Momentum training community I met some of the organizers who started Cosecha, and I felt very inspired by their vision, by the urgency of the movement. Drivers licenses are such an important issue for the undocumented community, but it was clear to me too that they weren’t everything. Drivers licenses are important, but you can’t reunite with your kids or go see your family in another country with a drivers license. And so I felt like after two years at my placement working on drivers licenses and other campaigns, that I was ready to try something different, and try something bigger that I felt was looking at a different piece for how to address the issue of immigration.

Immigration is front and center in our national conversation right now. What’s it like being on the frontlines of this issue?

We decided to move to Texas when – in addition to leading the country in number of deportations –  Texas passed a racist, anti-immigrant, “show me your papers” law. It felt like if we were going to be working on these issues, it was important to be working on them where the community was feeling the highest impact. Even though I was doing this work before, doing it now in Texas has added a new level of understanding of the pain that this country’s immigration system puts people through. The whole country is focused on the DREAM act, and DREAMers, and undocumented youth, and obviously we want permanent protection for undocumented youth. We also know it can’t come at the expense of criminalizing the rest of the 11 million undocumented immigrants. I think being in Texas, in a border state, I’ve been learning from the people who live here and deal with the daily reality of what enforcement means and what the border wall really means. Getting to know people and work with people who live with the border in their daily lives is so different than the hypothetical trading and bargaining of people’s lives that happens in Washington.

As organizers we often look for or towards root causes. What do you think are some of the root causes for how our country handles immigration?

That’s a great question. I don’t know if I know the answer, but I could give you my opinion! [laughter] I think if you learned about the history of immigration from Mexico into this country with the Bracero Program, this country viewed immigrant labor coming from Mexico and Latin America as temporary labor, and never people that were supposed to become a part of the fabric of this country. And I think that has everything to do with racism, and the ways that racism has played out throughout this country’s history. Under the Obama administration we saw the highest number of deportations of any previous president, so it’s not like we’re facing a new challenge, but we are facing a new political moment. And I think the reality is that this country needs our immigrant community. We still have this framework of whether we want or don’t want immigrants, but that’s not really the question. The thing is that we need immigrants in this country, that this country runs on immigrant labor, that immigrants are an integral part of our communities and our economy. Until we understand that, and until this country is forced to recognize that, we’re still going to be having this debate on a false premise, of whether we want immigrants or not. And really that premise is all about, in my opinion, the racism and colonialism of who is ‘worthy’ of being in this country and who or is not wanted.

What are some of the organizing techniques you’re using?

Cosecha is a non-violent movement. We believe that we need to use major political moments to get huge numbers of people on the streets and change the narrative around immigration, and we also know that we need trainings and on-the-ground organizing to create a leaderful movement that can sustain and support itself. Right now we are doing lots of local campaigns, actions and trainings to grow support for Cosecha across the country, eventually leading to a 7-day strike of immigrants and allies, that shows this country that it depends on immigrants. We know that immigrant communities can’t rely on politicians to get what they want, that we have to organize together in order to win.

You were one of the presenters this past fall for a live session of JOIN’s online training course Don’t Kvetch, Organize!, where you spoke about allyship. Could you share any of your guiding principles for how to show up as an ally?

I think the thing that I always try to think of, for allyship and Cosecha, is – are we following the leadership of the undocumented community? And for Cosecha that means following the strategy and what we call the Principles of Cosecha, which are 14 guiding principles that form the backbone of Cosecha. So we’re following the leadership of the undocumented community by following those principles and respecting them, both in the letter and spirit of how they were written. Then I ask, is this getting us closer to the 7 day strike? Is this getting us closer to a movement of mass non-cooperation of immigrants and allies?

Tell us about how you arrived at JOIN. How did you discover the Fellowship?

I was the JOIN class of 2014-15. I grew up in Boston and knew a lot of people who did JOIN, and I was moving back to Boston after living in Seattle. I knew that I wanted to be an organizer, I knew I wanted Jewish community, and I knew that I wanted to be in Boston. So it felt like such an obvious choice for me, in terms of knowing that those were things in my life that I wanted to prioritize. And I had also met a lot of people along the way who had done JOIN and encouraged me to apply.

Is there a story or particularly meaningful experience that has stuck with you?

I think the thing that stuck with me most was just a moment of tension that our JOIN class had at our second retreat. It was the first time we had really talked about Israel and Palestine as a cohort. Although it was clear that we all came from a deep place of wanting freedom and dignity for everyone in Israel/Palestine, we struggled to find a common framework to do that work and have that conversation. I remember the deep compassion that I felt my cohort was trying to have for one another, and both how it felt so simple and complex at the same time. So simple because I knew on some deep human level everyone in the room wanted everyone to be able to lead a life of dignity, and so complex because despite that being true the history of Israel/Palestine and the history of the Jewish people, made it so hard for us to find common ground.

Lastly, is there a kernel of organizing wisdom and / or a Jewish teaching that feeds or nourishes your work?

Well, an organizing lesson that I have to learn over and over again is that organizing is always about people. And you fight for things because it’s with people, and you fight for things for people. And as soon as we lose sight that we’re doing this for people, the work loses its importance and urgency. That’s something I’ve been thinking about recently.

Emily Bloch is a community organizer with Movimiento Cosecha and a Jewish Organizing Fellowship alum ’14-15

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In Conversation with Dan Gelbtuch

Hello Dan! Tell us about what you’re up to these days.

Absolutely! So I left my job of ten years, which was actually my JOIN placement, at Dorchester Bay Youth Force, doing youth organizing work. I left back in the end of June, and I’ve been doing a variety of projects. The one that’s been most on my mind and taking up most of my time has been a project working with longtime JOIN friend and trainer Rabbi David Jaffe, who wrote a book called Changing the World from the Inside Out, looking at Jewish spirituality and social justice, and how those two things work together. I’ve been working with him since the beginning of September, taking the book and trying to bring it into the world, doing some strategizing, relationship building, designing some trainings around it, and some fundraising to take the book and mold it into a larger project.

How did you discover JOIN?

Let’s see, how did I find the Fellowship? I heard about it from a variety of sources just growing up in the Jewish community in Boston. I think maybe even my mom, she would read the Jewish Advocate, and saw an article about it a long time ago. At the time I wasn’t interested, I moved to New York after college, and I think then I connected to Lauren Herman at the Workmen’s Circle – which was her JOIN placement I believe – and she mentioned it to me. Then I was planning to move back to Boston and needed something to do, and I looked into it and ended up applying. That was my first connection to JOI (at the time), and as I mentioned my placement was Dorchester Bay, at the program there called Youth Force – this was 2007. I was 27, on the older end, I think the oldest person in my cohort that year.

Did that impact your experience at all?

Yeah, I think it did. You know, it’s hard to tell. I got so much out of the Fellowship, and I’m sure a lot of people do, so I don’t think that’s so unique. But maybe what I got out of it was shaped by the fact that I had some experience, I had taught in a public school in Brooklyn for three years, and that was a really really challenging experience for many reasons. I had that as my background going into my JOIN year. So I’m sure that particular experience, and whatever growth or maturity I gained through it, shaped the way I was initially attracted to community organizing.

Is there a story or experience from your Fellowship that has stayed with you?

For sure, yeah. This is the story I usually tell about one of the most meaningful parts of my year. When Meir trained – early in the year, I think it was October – trained on how to share our story, it was a deeply transformative experience for me. I think, first and foremost, because it really made my story into something that was important, something that ought to be developed. I’d come into social justice work not really thinking that my story was worthwhile or legitimate or important, and it was just really empowering for me to center myself and my story, and then to learn the craft of developing a story and sharing a story in a one on one meeting, that was a really powerful experience. And that still absolutely sticks with me, ten years later, as I continue to do one on ones for my current project, how am I sharing my story and how am I getting people to relate to me. That was really meaningful.

Lastly, is there a piece of organizing wisdom and / or a Jewish teaching that inspires you?

There’s something from my current work, a Jewish concept, of shleimut, or wholeness. And I’ve been thinking a lot about what does it mean for us to bring our full selves to our lives, and then more specifically to our social justice work. And I think a lot of times what happens is we bifurcate ourselves and say ‘OK you’re a spiritual person in synagogue, and you’re an intellectual person in the classroom,’ and just divide ourselves. And I’m really thinking a lot about how that’s not the healthiest way to live, and how can we develop a sense of wholeness, and then bring our whole selves. And what sort of environments encourage that and don’t encourage that, and what are some skills. I think that’s why I love David’s book. What are some skills that we can learn to develop a sense of wholeness and then bring our whole selves into the world.

Dan Gelbtuch is a community organizer and Jewish Organizing Fellowship alum ’07-08. Learn more about the Jewish Organizing Fellowship.

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