AJWS Welcomes its First Cohort of Neta Fellows


The Neta Fellowship, generously supported by the Einhorn Family Charitable Trust, is a yearlong fellowship designed to support select Rabbinical Students’ Delegation alumni in creating replicable programming to promote global citizenship in their communities. AJWS will provide both funding as well as coaching in order to support the Fellows on their respective journeys.

The Hebrew word Neta, נטע, refers to both a small plant and to the act of planting. Like a sapling, these projects will be relatively small. However, AJWS hopes that by offering nurture now, they will grow and help make global justice a central concern of the American Jewish community.

Rabbi Andy Kastner is the Silk Foundation Campus Rabbi at St. Louis Hillel at Washington University. Rabbi Kastner received his rabbinic ordination from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and became a licensed shochet (kosher slaughterer) through an apprenticeship while living in New York City. While in rabbinical school, he also participated in RSD 8 with AJWS. An avid outdoorsman, a lover of food and the natural world, Rabbi Kastner may not be able to pat his head and rub his tummy simultaneously, but he is fond of digestive consciousness, thinking while chewing.  Andy currently lives in St. Louis with his sweet wife Leslie and their vivacious toddler Asher.

About Rabbi Kastner’s Neta Project

St. Louis Hillel at Washington University is launching a year-long program called the “Takkana Social Justice Initiative: Seeding a Sustainable Future.” Guided by the meaning of the initiative's name, Takkana (from the Hebrew word, l’takken, to repair) seeks to explore ways of change in the world by bringing together university students committed to the values of environmental sustainability, stewardship and food security for a year of education, community service and social justice. The students’ experience will culminate in the creation of environmental sustainability projects at local public schools in St Louis. Andy is hopeful that this model will be transferable to other college campuses that are interested in long-term, community-based learning and service.

Rabbi Elizabeth Richman is the Program Director & Rabbi in Residence at Jews United for Justice, Washington DC’s local Jewish social justice organization. She also serves on the Rabbinical Assembly’s Social Justice Commission and the steering committee of DC Interfaith Worker Justice. A trained community organizer and teacher, Rabbi Richman has taught about Judaism and justice around the world, from California to Qatar. She was a participant in AJWS’s RSD 4 trip to El Salvador, and worked in the field of international development and human rights before entering the rabbinate.  Rabbi Richman was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary, where she was a Wexner Graduate Fellow, and holds an AB from Princeton University and a certificate in Talmud, Tanach and Halacha from the Drisha Institute for Jewish Education.

About Rabbi Richman’s Neta Project

“Green and Just Celebrations” – Simchas (celebrations) and lifecycle events such as bar and bat mitzvahs, weddings, commitment ceremonies and baby namings are unique opportunities in our lives to publicly celebrate Jewish values and identity. They are also the largest and most expensive events that most people will ever plan. In the DC area alone, the Jewish community spends approximately $30 million annually on its celebrations. To help individuals and families align the many spending decisions that go into planning a lifecycle celebration with Jewish values such as the fair treatment of workers, protecting the environment and decreasing waste and excess consumption, Jews United for Justice published Green & Just Celebrations, a guide designed to empower Jews to choose Jewish ethical consumption options.

Presently, more than 40 DC-area synagogues currently distribute Green and Just Celebrations to members planning lifecycle events. The Neta funding will help deepen and multiply the impact of the Guide by allowing Rabbi Richman and her team to partner with one local synagogue to transform how it teaches about planning simchas. Through this partnership, JUFJ will create a series of engaging educational modules to help members use Green & Just Celebrations more fully and productively, and help educate our broader Jewish community on the Jewish values of ethical consumption. As a result, families and individuals will transform their simchas into more just events, support the growth of worker- and environment-friendly businesses and create teachable Jewish moments for the whole community. Rabbi Richman will collaborate closely with Rabbi Weiss, as the goals and visions of their projects are similar though their audiences and regional focus may differ.

Rabbi Ari Weiss is the Director of Uri L’Tzedek. A frequent scholar-in-residence, Rabbi Weiss has taught at foundations, synagogues and on campuses nationwide. Prior to Uri L’Tzedek, he was co-director of the Meorot University Fellowship at YCT Rabbinical School, served as the Rabbinic Fellow at the Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life at NYU and taught as part of the Judaic Studies Faculty at the Heschel School. In the summer of 2006, Rabbi Weiss was a JCUA Rabbinical Student Fellow and interned at We The People Media, a Chicago-based public housing advocacy group. He has served as a Jewish educator for American Jewish World Service, Bnei Akiva and the Lauder Foundation on missions to Nicaragua, Ghana, Israel and Hungary. He also travelled to El Salvador with AJWS on RSD4.

Rabbi Weiss received his rabbinical ordination from YCT Rabbinical School in June 2007. He is completing a Master's degree in Jewish Philosophy at Yeshiva University where received his B.A. in philosophy and religion. He has studied at Yeshivat Har Etzion and Beit Morasha of Jerusalem. In April 2010, Rabbi Ari Weiss was selected as a Joshua Venture Group fellow, a prestigious honor bestowed upon Jewish leaders that show particular promise for social change and social entrepreneurship.

About Rabbi Weiss’s Neta Project:

"Just Celebrations" will transform synagogue life in America by incorporating meaningful social justice as a core component of Jewish lifecycle events. Birth, b’nai mitzvah and weddings are powerful moments in our lives where we transition to becoming parents, adults, and spouses. Judaism has developed precise rituals to mark these liminal moments, including festive occasions to celebrate these transformations. "Just Celebrations" will provide the tools necessary to create ethical celebrations including, curriculum linking life-cycle events to authentic Jewish social justice teachings, creating ethical institutions in our synagogues by ensuring that in-house kosher caterers pay fair wages and an interactive website that provides information highlighting ethical choices such as “blood diamonds,” and “fair trade.” Rabbi Weiss will work in collaboration with Rabbi Elizabeth Richman of JUFJ to create these tools and hopes that his project will have great impact on traditional synagogues nationwide.