Spirit, History, and Community: Reflections on the JOIN Fellowship

This blog post is written by Jewish Organizing Fellow Danny Blinderman.  

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In 1963 Joachim Prinz, a Rabbi and President of the American Jewish Congress, addressed the March on Washington. He spoke, in his words, both as an American and as a Jew. As an American, he joined many others in protesting the chasm between American ideals and the reality of Jim Crowe segregation. Yet he devoted the bulk of his speech to how his Jewish identity and experience, both its spiritual and historical elements, moved him to action.

I first listened to this speech several years ago, and it instantly captivated me. Rather than enunciate progressive values and then claim that they were the same as Jewish ideals, he articulated a deep and powerful understanding of Judaism out of which progressive principles emerged. As someone who feels that my Jewish identity is the base upon which I build my story of why I care about working towards a just society, I wanted a similar grounding. I wanted to root myself in the Jewish tradition, and in Jewish community, so that I could hold fast to ideals of justice and liberation.

I came to the JOIN fellowship because of these questions, and my experience in it has only redoubled how powerful, important and necessary the learning we do together is. We’ve explored humanistic anti-capitalist understandings of Shabbat, challenged Ashkenazi-centrism that is often the resting pulse of our community, and worked to understand the contemporary justice lessons the Jewish diasporic experience hands down to us. We moved beyond the assumption that Judaism is progressive to the discernment of what strands of Judaism could serve as building blocks for a just world. Rather than trade in competing assertions of what lessons Judaism does or does not offer, we have constructed a justice-based understanding of Judaism that is not easily dismissed. For me, historical and spiritual questions have intermingled to create something beautiful and durable.

As powerful as it is to be grounded in these understandings of history and text, the crux of the Fellowship for me is the community we have built together. Jewish tradition teaches us that learning is not an individual enterprise. We live in a society that often seeks to isolate each of us and convince us to downplay critical parts of our own humanity. Community is essential to hold onto our complete selves and our vision of the world as we want it to be. We are meant to explore ourselves and our relationship to the world in communities that can hold us accountable with love. The work we are engaged in is difficult, and we often ask each other to dig into parts of ourselves long left undisturbed. I feel that the learning and community intertwine to create a space that feels, in its own way, sacred. Our shared experience has seeped into the space to create something more than just a place to hold weekly sessions. It is a place of study, of spirituality, of friendship and community. The curriculum is eye opening, but the community is soul enriching. I am grateful beyond words for both.

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