Leadership Transition Announcement

Why I’m So Excited About JOIN for Justice’s Future
By Phil Rosenblatt, Board Chair and President

Greetings!

On behalf of JOIN for Justice, I’m writing to share our Executive Director, Karla Van Praag’s transition plans—and why I’m so excited about JOIN’s future.

I’ve been on JOIN’s Board, and the Board of its predecessor, The Jewish Organizing Initiative (“JOI”), for some time, most recently serving as Board Chair . . .

. . . From being drawn to the brilliance of JOI’s mission—training Jews in community organizing to honor our Jewish heritage working for real systemic social justice change . . .

. . . To grappling with whether JOI was viable and seeing it answer this question with a resounding YES . . .

. . . To seeing JOI grow into JOIN, and loving what JOIN was accomplishing but worrying that its impact was too narrow . . .

. . . To watching in awe as JOIN’s brilliant professional staff and leaders developed programs reaching across the United States—helping thousands, even millions, of people change their world . . .

And for virtually all this dynamic growth, and during my entire tenure as Board Chair, my principal ally has been JOIN’s Executive Director, Karla Van Praag.

I believe JOIN’s—and Karla’s—success has been built on her style of leadership; i.e., her ability to attract extraordinary talent and to empower our staff to reach great heights.

I have never been prouder to be part of JOIN.

After more than thirteen years as Executive Director, Karla has informed me she still loves JOIN’s mission and she’s still motivated by JOIN’s vision, but she has decided she wants to make space for other aspects of her life and for new leadership in the organization.

While I will truly miss partnering with Karla as JOIN’s Executive Director, I am filled with confidence in JOIN’s future—and gratitude for how Karla has informed us of her decision and has asked to pursue these changes over the next nine months.

JOIN is blessed in at least two important ways. First, Karla has given JOIN ample time to engage in a thoughtful process to find our next Executive Director; and, second, Karla has built an organization which is not only capable of carrying on our dynamic work and growth through this transition, but which will undoubtedly attract exciting candidates to become our next Executive Director—filled with new energy and dreams of how the world can be.

And so, by the end of the year, Karla is going to step down as Executive Director of JOIN for Justice. Until we bring on JOIN’s new Executive Director, she will serve as co-Executive Director alongside Meir Lakein, who co-founded JOIN with Karla and is currently our Director of Organizing.

A fabulous Strategic Transition Committee has been convened to begin JOIN’s search. Once JOIN’s new Executive Director commences their leadership role, Karla will support our new Executive Director’s vision by taking on a new part-time role focused on building strategic relationships and initiatives for the JOIN community to further our work.

I’m grateful to know the Jewish social justice world is not losing one of my greatest heroes. Karla assures me her passion still burns for working to make a better world, and her efforts will continue in those ways she believes she can make her best contributions and feel most fulfilled.

So, for all these reasons, I look forward with great anticipation to JOIN’s future, and I look forward to your ongoing passion for JOIN as we move on to our next chapter.

 

Sincerely,

Phil Rosenblatt
Board Chair and President

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Making Space
By Karla Van Praag, Executive Director

JOIN is such a special organization. I knew it from the moment I decided to step into leadership at its predecessor organization, the Jewish Organizing Initiative, back in late 2007. This is because JOIN’s leaders, no matter where they call home, view the world through a very particular type of lens. While their concerns may vary widely – from the very local to those of individual Jewish communities to national and global challenges – they share a common determination to move beyond simple “concern” to action. Our people are the kind that say “I’m going to do something about it.” Far from the spaces in social media full of complaints and platitudes, our leaders are committed first to learning how to make effective change, and then getting on with it and making it happen, even when it’s hard, even when they fail.

JOIN is special because it is filled with so many of these passionate people committed to both learning and action. Being in this work with people like this is invigorating. It’s compelling. And truthfully, it can also be very intense and consuming.

This community – and I’ll be specific here – the Jewish social justice community – has grown up a lot in the past decade, and I have been lucky to grow along with it. We’ve become more organized and more effective, and we’ve also learned where we are ignorant, or causing harm, or looking the other way. One lesson that this community has begun to talk more about over the past several years is how much we need to care for ourselves even as we do the hard work for good. That rest is an intrinsic part of the work, just as Shabbat is a part of the week. I can talk a good game about this, but in reality I’ve struggled with this evolution personally. For years, as my body or my mind screamed at me to stop, I’d tell myself I was needed and, I admit, I took pride in being strong.

And then, 2020. Over the past year, we have all been challenged by a reality we didn’t recognize, and many people learned for the first time how much of our lives we cannot control. But just as I flexed my resilience muscle yet again – working harder to navigate the unexpected – I noticed a new and growing willingness in some parts of our culture to admit aloud we were hurting, and to give each other more benefit of the doubt when we faltered. That we might need to question the way it had always been done. I began to listen to the still, small voice that told me I didn’t have to simply push on the same way anymore. If some of the world could begin to admit it needed to slow down a little and change, then maybe I could too.

So rather than push through, I decided to do something radically different for me: to step back. I wanted to create some space in my life for something else, to practice tzimtzum, making space for creation to take root and flourish. And the board of JOIN has been unsurprisingly supportive in figuring out a way to chart a new course that allows me to do so that supports me while always furthering our mission.

Of course, leadership turnover is natural because organizations evolve. Leaving my role is essential for that to happen, and I’m so happy to do it during a period of strength for JOIN, in a time when my health is good, and in a way where the board and I can ensure the transition happens smoothly. This is an incredible moment for JOIN to find new leadership that reflects who we are now and who we are becoming because, simply put, we are thriving. We are training more leaders than ever before. As we announced we would in our growth plan, we have started new programs focusing on building the pipeline for diverse Jewish leadership for change, starting Access to Power for disabled Jews earlier this year and building toward a Jews of Color Organizing Fellowship to launch by next year. New leadership will invigorate our growing organization with fresh energy and insight, and take us to the next level.

I’m also confident in this decision because, as much as I’ve put into JOIN, the organization has never been about me. While I’ve been the official leader of JOIN, it’s always been a leaderful organization. It’s the way I’ve led and the reason I’ve loved it. Because of the way we’ve built this organization, no one piece is indispensable, including me. A new Executive Director will bring their talents to an incredible staff and lay leadership who don’t have to begin to step up, because they’ve always stepped up. The new Executive Director will be fortunate to work with these people and these programs, with all of us.

I’m so grateful to be able to continue to contribute in a role that’s right for me and the organization. I’m also thrilled and recognize the privilege I have to be able to take some time to tend to my kids properly while they are still at home and to tend to my body and soul from a period of physical strength.

Every Passover, we are supposed to feel that it is us, not our ancestors, leaving Egypt. That’s a big ask – it’s hard to tell people what they ought to feel. Yet I suspect many of us may feel, this holiday, that we are emerging from the cave and getting a little closer to the light. We aren’t in the Promised Land yet – but it does feel that we’re progressing through the desert, getting closer. My decision definitely feels like it’s bringing me a little closer. Many, many thanks for being part of this journey with me and with JOIN.

Chag Sameach!
Karla Van Praag
Executive Director

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Debriefing the GA Win

We all saw history made as two Democrats won in the Georgia Senate runoff election. But there’s a deeper and longer organizing story here. And like we do after any campaign, win or lose, we wanted to take a bit of space to debrief.
 
So, Kat Macías, JOIN’s Communication and Outreach Officer, sat down with Rabbi Joshua Lesser, an Atlanta rabbi with a long history of social justice leadership in the state, to talk as two Georgians about how this win came to be and what organizing lessons we can learn here. Stay tuned for Kat’s reflection at of the conversation at the end.
 

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Office Farewell Celebration

We invite you to mark this moment of transition with us.

Image Description: a long rectangular image split down on left side is a photo of the office building JOIN use the rent with the JOIN logo a top tinted purple and the bottom right side of the image. A purple to red faded background with gold text in the center reads “Farewell Celebration Saying good-bye to 359 Boylston St” the date “Thursday, March 4th 2021 4pm ET” sits inside a firework on the right.

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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.

-Irresistible

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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