Organizing in a Time of Social Distancing

Organizing in a time of social distancing in bold above an image of the headshots of Patricia Berne, Lydia X. Z. Brown, and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha and a sidebar that says "The wisdom of disability justice organizers."

As we adjust to social distancing and stay-at-home orders and see emerging struggles for just workplace conditions for essential workers, we are fortunate to be able to learn from those who have spent years organizing with concerns about access and radical inclusion at the forefront of their work. 

Last month we hosted three leaders in this movement at “Organizing in a Time of Social Distancing: the Wisdom of Disability Justice Organizers,” a webinar moderated by our own Allegra Heath-Stout. The webinar featured disability justice leaders Patricia Berne, Lydia X. Z. Brown, and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha. Over 1,200 people registered to attend this very important opportunity. Register here for a copy of the recording and see the resources mentioned by panelists at the bottom of this page.

The webinar was also picked up by the notable Irresistible and featured on its April 12 podcast. 

This episode shares stories and insights from disability justice organizers that all of us can learn from and apply to organizing in our current conditions.


In response to all of the questions we received from Jewish leaders, organizers, and organizations about how to organize for justice and community during the pandemic, we will be offering a special round of Don’t Kvetch, Organize!  

Beginning May 18, we will run the seven-week special edition, offering skills and insights for people seeking to organize in this time of crisis. Whether your interest is in joining mutual aid efforts for this unique moment or using this time to engage with longer-term organizing for systemic change, we will support participants seeking to get involved in their communities as they learn.  This course will also serve as an introduction to how community organizing can be used to build a more just world for all. It will explore what Jewish traditions and history teach us about our work for justice, with video segments taught by experienced organizers and movement trainers. Find out more about the course Don’t Kvetch, Organize *Special Edition* here. 

As mentioned earlier, below are links and learning opportunities referenced in the webinar:


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A Passover Message About the Special Round of Don’t Kvetch, Organize!

A platter with the traditional Passover meal.

How can we support leaders and organizers responding to the pandemic? Passover teaches us that liberation can follow plague, if people can come together and resolve to act. Our new course about organizing in a time of pandemic can show the way.

Often it is in times of crisis, times of pressure, even times of tragedy, that communities teach themselves what they are capable of.  What will synagogues and other Jewish institutions learn about their capacity during this pandemic?

How quickly, and how extensively, Jewish institutions have built wide mutual aid networks over the last month is not only heartwarming – it demonstrates how instinctive organizing is for our communities.  The check-in phone trees, the coordination of food and medical support, and the outpouring of learning and social opportunities have been matched by efforts unique to this moment – most prominently organizing donations of protective gear for the medical workers on the front lines.  We are demonstrating how much we can do when we take the hard work of building community seriously.

At the same time, many Jewish communities are struggling with how to fix our broken systems at a time when we are seeing so very many being excluded right now. Meticulously laid plans of visits to the State House and door to door voter registration have gone out the window.  Often, we are left with encouraging people, as individuals, to call their legislators or sign online petitions. At this moment, our organizing around systems and policy change often lacks wide community support, creativity, and the power of our mutual aid organizing.

And that is eating at many of us.  First, because many middle-class people know that, while they physically isolate themselves, that option isn’t available to homeless people, immigrants locked in detention centers, prisoners behind bars.  And, they know that their ability to shelter in place is made possible by working-class people exposing themselves to coronavirus daily as they go to poorly paid jobs at Amazon and Instacart, working, as they must support their families, in unsafe conditions to ship others the goods that they need to stay home in relative safety. It also eats at us because we know, in our bones, that we’re capable of more, even if we (and I) can’t yet tell what that “more” is. 

In response to this great need, JOIN is offering an additional round of our nationally acclaimed online course, Don’t Kvetch, Organize!, for Jewish communities, leaders, and organizers sitting at home struggling with these questions in this unique moment of national crisis. 

This special edition of the course is designed specifically for organizing in a time of a pandemic. Added to the course’s traditional high-level video content and assignments will be special readings and discussions to help us discern what our communities are capable of right now when there is so much we are called to do.  We will offer skills and insights for people seeking to organize in this time of crisis and suggest concrete opportunities to get involved in your community as you learn.

Learn more about the special edition here.


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Organizing for Liberation with Rabbi Lauren Tuchman Video Clip

On October 3, 2019, JOIN for Justice hosted an event, “Organizing for Liberation with Rabbi Lauren Tuchman.” Below is a clip from the conversation.


Text from three opening slides (until 40 seconds in):

On October 3, 2019, JOIN for Justice hosted “Organizing for Liberation with Rabbi Lauren Tuchman.”

As the first blind woman in the world the enter the rabbinate, Rabbi Lauren led us in imagining how vibrant our communities can be when we are more inclusive and work to “decenter the center.”

The conversation was moderated by Rabbi Becky Silverstein. Rabbi Becky is a local Boston rabbi and found of “Beyn Kodesh L’chol,” a community which explores the Jewish tradition in an explicitly LGBTQ embracing, anti-racist Jewish space that seeks to center the voices of those on the margins.


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An Inside Perspective on the Empower Fellowship

The Empower Fellowship is a track within the Jewish Organizing Fellowship for Jews who self-identify as people with disabilities, disabled, or differently-abled. Empower Fellows are part of the Jewish Organizing Fellowship, engaging in all of the training, community, and mentorship that come with being a Jewish Organizing Fellow. They also participate in additional trainings to support their leadership as Jewish organizers with disabilities.

Below is testimony from one of our current 2019-20 Empower Fellows about their experience applying and being in the inaugural Empower cohort. (They have chosen to remain anonymous.)

Fellows in a semi-circle, seated, facing presenter and flip chart.

All Fellows in a training session during their opening retreat.

How did you decide to apply to the Empower Fellowship?

When I was trying to decide if I wanted to apply for Empower, if I was “disabled enough” for Empower, if I “deserved” to be part of Empower, my partner told me something really helpful that I have told several other people since then. Everyone needs support –  to do their work, to learn new things, to continue to do hard things. That’s the point of doing JOIN in general – to get support learning how to be an effective organizer. And if you would benefit from the support that Empower provides, why not try to get it? You deserve to have the support you need (and the support that would help you even if you don’t *need* it).

How has Empower supported you this year?

Through Empower, I’ve learned a lot about myself, my disability, and how my disability and my organizing overlap. Empower has prompted me to think and explore how the way I organize is impacted by my disability and the ways that it improves my work rather than only paying attention to the ways it makes doing organizing the “normal way” difficult. I’ve been pushed by my cohort, trainers, my supervisor, and the people I work with to consider more carefully what nourishes me rather than just what doesn’t burn me out. It’s made me a more holistic, more connected, and more effective leader.

What have you gotten out of the Empower Fellowship?

A large part of what I have gotten from Empower has been being in community with other disabled organizers through the Empower cohort, and through the trainers that teach us during Empower sessions. They are (mostly) all activists or organizers with disabilities, and part of our sessions is almost always just talking about how disability has shaped their advocacy, and what kinds of things have helped them. The opportunity to learn from people who have been organizing while disabled is in and of itself really rich. Specifically, meeting other organizers with the same kinds of disabilities I have has been really nourishing too – people like me can and do this every day.

What would you say to something considering applying?

 I’ve heard several people express concern that they’re not “disabled enough”, or that because their disabilities/conditions aren’t the ones that a lot of the disability rights/justice movement historically centered, or are not as directly affected as another person they know, they shouldn’t apply and “take someone else’s spot.” My response to those people has been trust that the people who are reading the applications also have keen sense of disability justice, and that there is no harm in saying you would benefit from being within the Empower fellowship. It’s better to be considered than to take yourself out of the running because you don’t think you deserve it.

The presence of the Empower cohort has made a perceptible difference in how the whole Fellowship addresses disability. We are all learning more about ableism and its role in our own lives as well as oppressive structures. I’m looking forward to seeing the ways that this starts to ripple out into the other spaces we all organize.

Learn more about the Empower Fellowship here!


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Apply to Be a Placement Agency

Apply now to be a Placement organization!

The JOIN Fellowship is seeking dynamic social change organizations to partner with us by hosting talented JOIN Fellows in organizing roles for the next academic year.

Partner organizations benefit from hiring capable young professionals recruited and trained by JOIN throughout the year. The deadline for the regular application round is March 27, 2020. Those organizations that have been accepted as a JOIN placement in recent years may not have to complete the entire application – please be in touch with Jihelah Greenwald at if this is the case for your organization.

We have two applications: one for organizations interested in going through our matching process to hire a Fellow, and one for organizations who have an existing staff member they hope will become a Fellow. In each application, you will find the materials to apply for subsidies as well. 

This year, in partnership with Combined Jewish Philanthropies, we are excited to announce the second year of the Empower Fellowship. This opportunity is a track within the Fellowship for Jews who identify as people with disabilities, disabled, or differently-abled, and their employers. Placement organizations that hire Empower Fellows will receive added benefits including funding and additional training and consulting related to accessibility, inclusion, and disability justice. To learn more about the Empower Fellowship, click here. When applying for a Fellow, your application will automatically make your organization eligible to hire an Empower Fellow.

The fellowship Placement application gives background information about applying to become a partner organization with the Fellowship program of JOIN for Justice.  If you have any questions about the application or about the JOIN Fellowship, please contact Jihelah Greenwald at

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