Reflections on Selah

A photo of succlents with text that says "Reflections from Selah, by Jihelah Greenwald"

I spent the first full week of the year with 23 other Jewish people of color at a retreat in the deserts of Southern California. It was the biggest gathering of JOCs (Jews of Color) that I had ever been a part of. It was the coming together of Selah’s Cohort 16, a group of people from across the country that Bend the Arc have identified as Jewish Leaders of Color. The backdrop of our learning was the clay-red desert canyon where nestled into the valley our buildings were lined with succulents and pink peppercorn trees instead of the more familiar shrubbery and mums of Boston. For me the space was rejuvenating, it was healing, and it was challenging.

We gathered from sun-rise to sunset for five days of learning together to grow our individual capacities as leaders. Between the sessions where we honed our leadership skills, there were many rosy moments of feeling “seen” and “belonging” like the first night at the dinner table trading stories with three other mixed-heritage FIlipinx womyn. In this space, I felt closer to being seen in my wholeness. 

But it wasn’t all rosy. On the third day, our group broke apart.

Tensions emerged in the dusk of the second day after a session on white supremacy culture. Again we sat in a circle discussing, but this time our good intentions fell short. My stomach flipped and my jaw clenched as racist microaggressions piled up. Our own internalized anti-blackness had followed us to the retreat. I opted out of the social time in the evening. Instead, walking to my room in a daze as the discussion and my own memories stewed with each other leaving me frustrated that (as my peer said) “there is no road map.” Before falling to sleep that night, I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that even in a space created to specifically celebrate and uplift leaders of color in the Jewish community, there was still pervasive and prickly patterns of anti-blackness that reflect the anti-black racism that lay at the foundations of our society. **

The next morning, the crisp desert air and bright sunlight woke me. More hopeful after a night’s rest, I was ready to rise to the challenge of creating the group we wanted to live in. That day — through moments of listening, breathing together, taking breaks from the full group, and sticking with each other through our frustrations — we grew. We created new, resilient connections that were stronger than being “non-white Jews”. We built connections from our individual and collective commitment to see each other fully and healing from the anti-black racism that affects all of us.

By the end of the five days, I was tired from our learning and journeying together. On my flight back to Boston, I let my Shabbat practice begin early. I unplugged and allowed myself to rest. I entered the liminal space, the transition between my learning and coming back into my everyday life — where I could cherish the love and gifts Cohort 16 had given me and consider how to keep that spirit and energy with me moving forward. 

Thank you to every single person who joined us physically and spiritually last week. Thank you to everyone at Bend the Arc who made this experience possible, especially our leaders Leili Devari and Graie Hagans. And thank you to my team at JOIN who supported me in showing up at Selah and welcomed me back home.

*Selah a word from the Torah when Moses strikes a rock and water gushes forth. Some of the interpretations we discussed in our group includes a break, a rock, a break in a song, and a pause.

**One of Cohort 16 group agreements at this retreat was to take away learnings and uphold confidentiality. I want to share out my learnings, but the details will be scant to respect my commitment to our group. If you finish reading and want to know more details, my recommendation is to pay attention in multiracial group spaces you are a part of. Then make space for people with marginalized ideas to share their experiences. 

 

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A Year in Review: 2019

This is from an email that was sent to the JOIN network on December 31.

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. 

What does this look like?

JOIN Fellow with Megaphone at the front of a Never Again Action march.

It looks like our Jewish Organizing Fellowship alums showing up for immigration justice across the country through Never Again Action and other local solidarity direct actions

(Photo courtesy of the Boston Globe)

 

 

Photo of Eric Ward presenting with powerpoint. It’s creating spaces for our Clergy network to come together to discuss anti-semitism, white nationalism, and white supremacy; how to work across lines of difference within and outside the Jewish community; and how to organize politically diverse congregations. 

 

 

Thumbnail of video of Karla Van Praag and Allegra Heath Stout facing each other. It’s creating opportunities like the Empower Fellowship and the Jews of Color cohort of our online course to provide leadership opportunities and spaces for Jews with marginalized identities to deepen their powerful organizing skills.

 

Rabbi at podium with sign that says "Jersey City"It’s JOIN-trained clergy being a moral and powerful voice on preventing gun violence in New Jersey. 

 

 

 

As we close the fiscal year, we invite you once again to cast your lot with our widening network of Jewish social justice leaders. Please consider an end-of-year gift to JOIN for Justice today.

Give your end-of-year gift today!

Sincerely,
Karla Van Praag

Karla Van Praag headshot
Executive Director, JOIN for Justice

 

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Why I’m proud to work at JOIN

This letter from JOIN for Justice Executive Director Karla Van Praag was shared this December with the JOIN network. 

JOIN for Justice’s mission: Build a powerful field of Jewish leaders capable of effectively organizing for justice, both inside and outside Jewish communities in the US. But what does that look like when you are one of those leaders?

Colin Killick grew up going to protests with his parents. He always knew he wanted to make a difference in the world, but he wasn’t sure how. Then, as he says, after graduating college, “I found JOIN for Justice, which redirected the course of my entire life.”

In 2015, as a Jewish Organizing Fellow, Colin worked as a community organizer for Disability Policy Consortium (DPC). Using his learnings from JOIN, and in partnership with a JOIN alum at Boston Center for Independent Living, Colin organized a leadership team working on a campaign to provide affordable housing to low-income people with disabilities. The team won BIG: leveraging $1 million more in state funding for affordable housing for low-income people with disabilities, the biggest increase in over 15 years! Since then, DPC’s organizing—carried on by JOIN Fellows—has won $11 million in new dollars to support housing for people with disabilities in Massachusetts.

“Because of our partnership with JOIN, organizing is now the heart of what DPC does to affect political change,” says Colin, who is now leading DPC as its Executive Director with a team of three organizers, all JOIN Fellows and alums. 

This is a story about how our training has impacted the disability community in Massachusetts. But it is also a story about how the disability community has changed us at JOIN.

While our Fellows were having impacts on the broader disability community, they were also supporting JOIN in better incorporating a disability focus into our organizing work. We know 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. And our Fellows have consistently encouraged us to live more fully into this value in our programs.

These Fellow-led conversations played a crucial role in what eventually would become the Empower Fellowship, an initiative within the Jewish Organizing Fellowship for Jews who identify as people with disabilities. In addition to our general organizing curriculum, Empower Fellows engage in training to support them as disabled Jewish organizers.

Lior Gross is a Fellow in this inaugural year of Empower. At a young age, they felt a strong connection to the more-than-human world, recognizing the interconnectedness of all life. This sparked interest in climate organizing efforts in high school and college.

One night in college, Lior was walking outside the library with their organizing mentor. Their mentor asked, “Have you asked yourself whether you want to be powerful, and what it will take to get there? In order to be powerful, you have to bring your whole self.” This idea drove them to realize how important it was to claim their Jewish identity while doing justice work, which allowed them to be more authentic in their organizing, and also led them to JOIN.

The Empower Fellowship now offers Lior the opportunity to explore what it means to identify as disabled, and how to strengthen their work and leverage the power that comes with showing up fully as a disabled organizer. “It’s crucial in our movements to center leadership of the people most impacted,” says Lior. “I don’t know what other opportunities exist where I could learn about disabled Jewish organizing in robust ways to allow me to step into my power as an organizer. This Fellowship affirms the idea that you can be a disabled Jewish organizer and be better at what you do for it.”

The Empower Fellowship is transforming organizations both inside and outside of the disability field. Lior’s placement organization, Indivisible MA, is hosting a conference to engage people across MA for the 2020 election. Through Lior’s efforts, this is the first time Indivisible MA is working to make the conference accessible. Lior says, “Literally opening doors so everyone can participate is powerful and important.”

This is what we do at JOIN, and why I am so proud to work for this organization. We provide ground-breaking opportunities so that our program participants can tap into their power as organizers and work towards a more just world. When our leaders have the resources they need to succeed as organizers, we are all stronger for it.

JOIN will continue to do bold, innovative work to promote justice in the coming year. But we can’t do this without your support. I’m asking you today to support JOIN so that leaders like Colin and Lior have the opportunities, training, and networks they need to succeed in making a difference. Please consider supporting JOIN for Justice today.

Thank you for your ongoing commitment to our work. 

Give your end-of-year gift today!

Best,
Karla Van Praag

Karla Van Praag headshot
Executive Director, JOIN for Justice


Learn more about the Empower Fellowship below!

For a visual description of the video and more resources about disability and organizing, please click here.

 

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What I’ve learned from JOIN

Lauren Tuchman headshot

When I was recently asked to do a community organizing training about one-to-ones for a Jewish organization, I was both enthusiastic and apprehensive. I knew a bit about the organization, but did not have a great sense of who would be my audience that day. I had no doubts, though, that I would be able to deliver a superior training, thanks to the incredible resources, support, and training I’ve received from JOIN for Justice over the years. And I was right – the training I led for this organization was hugely impactful for them, and I attribute this to the relational organizing skills I learned through JOIN. 

My involvement with JOIN for Justice began in 2014 when I joined the Seminary Leadership Project, continued as I took their online course Don’t Kvetch, Organize! the following year, joined the Strategic Planning Committee, and last year served on the Advisory Committee for the Empower Fellowship for Jews with Disabilities, a particular passion of mine (currently accepting applications!). If that wasn’t enough, this Fall I became a JOIN for Justice board member.  

Through all my learning and involvement at JOIN, the skill of building relationships through one-on-one conversations has been the most impactful in my work for justice. I use this skill nearly every day in the work that I do. This is such an important way of interacting with people because so much of who we are is rooted in story, if we don’t get to know each other and build trusting relationships, we won’t be able to build a powerful movement. And we need a powerful movement. Especially as a Rabbi, I have a particular responsibility to be in relationship with many constituencies, and my learning with JOIN has given me the tools and space to be in relationship with many different Jewish communities in my work for justice. 

I believe JOIN is an exceptional organization in the Jewish community because we hold a unique position in providing Jewish organizing trainings to a wide variety of constituencies. We need Jewish leaders equipped with the tools they need to be part of our collective work towards justice, which is exactly what JOIN has provided me. 

But even further, and on a more personal level, I am proud to be part of JOIN because we have chosen to invest deeply in cultivating the talents and passions of organizers with disabilities through the Empower Fellowship. This is just one example of our commitment at JOIN to go deep where few organizations are. 

I invite you to join me in supporting an organization that has given so much to me as an individual organizer and catalyzes Jews across the country to work on issues that matter to them.

Please consider an end-of-year gift to JOIN today. 

Best,

Rabbi Lauren Tuchman

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“There’s nothing better than this course for synagogue leaders.”

Dru Greenwood lives in Massachusetts, and signed up for the 2019 course Don’t Kvetch, Organize! to support her work at Temple Israel and with the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization. JOIN talked with Dru a few weeks after the course ended to share her experience in the course.

Learn more about the course!

Dru Greenwood headshot

There’s nothing better than this course for synagogue leaders. It speaks with a Jewish voice and speaks to live issues in the interfaith organizing world, about how to speak with Jewish voice and authenticity. That particular focus is what I found really unique about Don’t Kvetch, Organize!

What I was hoping to get out of the course was a deeper understanding and practice of organizing. I’m working with the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization. We had just finished a major action, starting with a listening campaign in the spring and then serious actions in late August and right before the 2018 election. The Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey came to our action and received a blessing from 1,400 people, all raising their hands and sending her off as the people’s attorney to fight for affordable healthcare on behalf of the people of Massachusetts. When the deal was finally struck, her chief of staff told our lead people that they had put strictures in place that saved Massachusetts consumers more than $1 billion over 7 years.

Everyone took a breath after the fall action. It was after this action that several of our core team members took the JOIN course together. It was exactly the right place for us to be. In the spring 2019, we were going to devote organizer and clergy leadership time to bringing in more congregations and organizations with a focus on people of color, immigrants, low and middle income people. In  the meantime during winter 2019, our main goal is to strengthen the organizing capability of the existing member organizations and that’s exactly what this course did.

I thought that the structure of the course was brilliant. I really appreciated the mix of virtual Zoom meetings and the readings and the videos. I’m not used to learning in that way, and I thought that was very effective.

photos taken during Community Conversations at Temple Israel in May of 2018

The breadth and the approach to content was great. I know a number of people who made some of the tapes – Rabbi Jonah Pesner and Cheri Andes were wonderful, and I learned stuff about their actions on healthcare that I hadn’t known. It offered really helpful perspectives. It’s so much more tangible when you see the video of someone talking about a campaign; it comes alive.

Now that the course is over our synagogue core team has taken on a practice of doing one-to-ones. We each made a commitment to do a particular number each month—together it comes to 22 one-to-ones each month. At the beginning of each meeting we say how many we’ve done, and so far a month and a half after the course we’ve done over 50. It’s a cultural shift because we’re taking the practice of organizing so seriously, and we’ve taken on more responsibility ourselves.

This course is so important for helping us as Jews learn to be effective organizers and to really make a difference. The framework enabled us to understand why one-to-ones on an ongoing basis as a practice are so important to our effectiveness. And also how to talk about why this matters to each of us, like why you are doing work on affordable housing even though you personally have a place to live. That’s the story I try to tell–why this is so important to do–and the course gives you the tools to do it through a Jewish lens.

Learn more about the course!

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