JOIN for Justice is building a powerful field of Jewish leaders capable of effectively organizing for justice, both inside and outside Jewish communities in the US. We organize because, in the words of Emma Lazarus, “Until we are all free, we are none of us free”—our destinies are bound up as one.
We believe in a more just world where there is political, social and economic equity and the fair distribution of resources, where everyone can live with dignity and are the authors of their own story. We dream of a world where we agree that we must reject any system that holds people down because of who they are, and where we all assert our interconnection and our belief that we are accountable to each other and want to build that world together. We believe that Jewish leadership and Jewish communities are called to play a powerful role in this country’s social justice struggles to create that reality, and that we have distinct ways that we can contribute if we organize and work in partnership with other communities.
Why do we need JOIN for Justice?
Our society and our systems are woefully broken. All of us are deeply hurt by our fractured world and all of us have a role to play in healing it. Our Jewish traditions bestow upon us our obligation to reject the status quo and endow us with a deep respect for what can happen when people come together as a community.
Many Jewish leaders and communities are acting with passion and outrage, but they risk being ineffective, burning out or even doing harm and showing disrespect to those most affected by the injustice they seek to address. At the same time, countless more Jews are seething at what they see going on around them, but stay still, feeling helpless and unsure of what to do.
JOIN calls out to Jews ready to act, and Jews who are unsure about how to act, and provides a home for learning and courage for action. JOIN plays a catalytic role in the Jewish Social Justice field.
Our Organizing Institute offers training—grounded in Jewish culture, texts, traditions, and stories—in how to build power and relationships, act strategically with integrity, meaningfully partner with non- Jewish communities, successfully fight for our shared freedom and dignity, and find spiritual sustenance to commit for the long haul.
Our Network enables Jewish leaders both within and outside Jewish communities to support, learn from, and draw courage from one another. The Network builds power to organize effectively for justice, uniting Jewish organizers through shared Jewish values while drawing strength from our diversity of experiences.
Social justice. Every person is worthy of dignity and respect. We believe in political, social and economic equity and the fair distribution of resources. We look to the root of problems for solutions, so we believe in systemic change. While we believe that all are hurt by injustice and degradation, we understand that some people are much more impacted than others and that some people have been pushed to the margins of society at large and of Jewish communities. JOIN embraces “organizing with,” rather than “organizing for.” We see organizing as a way for Jewish communities to live our values.
Jewish values, learning, and responsibility. We value lifelong Jewish learning. We use text, traditions, and history to guide us, to challenge us, and to apply to our future – as the Ethics of the Fathers teaches, “turn it and turn it, everything is there.” We are inspired by, and believe in, Jewish communities that work together to act on their values. Our Jewish traditions bestow upon us our own obligation to reject the status quo and stand with others, as do complicated Jewish histories that include both anti-Semitism and prosperity. We believe Jewish communities are uniquely positioned to play a distinct role and have particular power to bring to the fight for justice.
Working across difference. The Talmud teaches us that “a prisoner cannot free themself from prison.” None of us can be free if we insist on acting alone. Both inside and outside Jewish communities, we work amidst diversity—of race, nationality, physical and mental ability, sexual orientation, gender identification, religious observance, histories, political views, class, and many other distinctions. As a matter of principle, we seek to work with people who have a range of identities, experiences and beliefs. JOIN is committed to creating spaces for this wide diversity to interact. We recognize that those who experience injustice most sharply and urgently, in and outside of Jewish communities, must be at the center of efforts for social change. We pursue relationships between Jewish communities and other communities as essential to effective and meaningful justice work. We believe that even polarized perspectives may have values and interests in common. We further believe that the sharing of these perspectives, values, and interests can bring about solutions we never imagined.
Communities. Organizing happens through communities of people. JOIN understands leadership to be the weaving of people together into a community greater than the sum of its parts. Institutions have great potential to play a critical role in building a just world. We also recognize that people do not need to be in a formal institution to be a community, and that some of the most potent communities are built around informal social networks.
Guiding Principles and Approaches
Make an impact. We train people so they can act and bring about systemic change. We’re patient with the process, but expect clear outcomes. We strive to make a difference, not a statement.
Expect tension. You can’t have change without some tension; indeed it is often a requirement of a change to the status quo. We expect and welcome productive tension and even introduce it in service of a new and better reality. We recognize that by bringing different people together to create change, conflict may arise and mistakes will be made. We allow room for those connected to JOIN and others to experience and transform through conflict, and to reflect, try again, and persevere. We have faith that Jewish communities can hold this type of work, space, and possibility, for this is what our world and our political moment needs right now.
Always learn with curiosity and humility. We’re curious about what is and what might be. We must never be too certain of our own correctness. We learn through doing, and embrace making mistakes and growing through them. Maimonides teaches that true change comes only when we have the opportunity to make the same mistake, but instead choose a better path. We prioritize reflection and evaluation. We do not believe that any one person has all the answers.
Tell our stories and listen to the stories of others. We learn from Jewish rituals such as Passover Seders and the weekly Torah reading the importance of telling our story. Everyone’s story matters. There is a value in vulnerability, courage, naming private pains and transforming them into public action. Communities’ and movements’ stories are built in part through weaving together the countless stories of brave individuals stepping up to share their own.
Understand power. In order to bring about change, we have to recognize, talk about and build power. Power is, most simply, the ability to act to change your surroundings, and we believe in teaching communities to build, share, shift, and leverage their power on behalf of the common good. Change won’t come unless we can talk honestly about how power is currently wielded, analyze how power is and can work, and build the power of organized people to bring about change.
Take care of ourselves. We believe that as we work toward a better world, we must also care for ourselves and each other. We support each other in many ways – materially, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. We feed ourselves by having fun together, being creative, singing together and practicing ritual together.
Relationships. For JOIN, relationships always matter— when it comes to building power, when it comes to sustaining movements, when it comes to leadership, when it comes to connecting with individuals and groups who are different. Our training asserts that solidarity, successful strategy, powerful action, and societal change are predicated on relationships, and focuses on organizing that brings disparate communities together. We build relationships inside the JOIN community, in wider Jewish communities, with non-Jewish organizations and communities, and with our partners, who span the spectrum of experience and identity.
Learn more about our approach and history.