Justice and Judaism Course Brings Together Young Changemakers in Washington, D.C.


Justice and Judaism Course Brings Together Young Changemakers in Washington, D.C.

May 19, 2009

Participants from the latest cohort of Justice and Jewish Thought, May 2009.
Participants from the latest cohort of Justice and Jewish Thought, May 2009.

"I loved that I had a place, a community, an open, honest, friendly, warm and accepting home to head to every week," says Sara Abelson, program director at Active Minds in Washington, D.C.  "It was a perfect supplement to everything else I have going in my life—work, social relationships, service, etc.—and it was a wonderful thing to count on and come to every week."

For 12 weeks, young professionals in the Washington, D.C. area met in each others' homes for Justice and Jewish Thought, an innovative dialogue on justice and Judaism. The course was piloted in 2008, and this latest round was developed jointly by the AJWS-AVODAH alumni partnership and JUFJ (Jews United for Justice). Both JUFJ and the AJWS-AVODAH partnership work to grow vibrant communities of Jewish justice activists in Washington, D.C. and across the U.S.

"I came into the class to explore the Jewish roots of social justice," says Daniel Michelson-Horowitz, project assistant at King & Spalding LLP. "I came out with an appreciation of the great work that has been and continues to be done on social justice across the Jewish community."

A Unique Model

The course pioneered an inventive learning model. Entirely led by its participants, each session was facilitated by a different member of the class.  In addition, the class met in a different participant's home each week. Meetings revolved around discussions based on justice-themed readings, which addressed such issues as privilege, race, class and sexual identity, all within a Jewish lens. 

The course's de-centralized structure and informal nature enabled participants to shape the experience they wanted to have. It was an opportunity for social change activists to reflect on their beliefs, and to build a community based on Jewish justice.

"Before we began meeting, I did volunteer work because it made me feel good, and I chose a non-profit career because I felt that it was the right thing to do," says April Goldstein, a program manager at the National Human Services Assembly. "Until now, I never connected Judaism with those actions, and I never felt that, as a Jew, I was obligated to make these types of life decisions."

The course helped Goldstein integrate these two formerly separate aspects of her identity. "With the class, my mind was opened to new ideas about Judaism, and new ideas about how to take our opinions and translate them into actions," she says.

The course has also nurtured a network of young D.C.-area Jews who share similar interests and pursuits. "It felt like a perfect antidote to post-college people everywhere struggling to find community," says Abelson. "It made the new city I'm in seem smaller, more familiar and more supportive.'

Moving Forward

What happens next? The AJWS-AVODAH partnership hopes to offer Justice and Jewish Thought in new cities. Meanwhile, D.C. graduates are planning to translate their thoughts into actions. "The class introduced me to many organizations and campaigns I hope to work with," says Michelson-Horowitz. "I look forward to turning our ideas and inspiration into practice. I'll miss the class, but I'm glad to know we will continue to meet, exchange ideas and work to make our community and the world more just."

Says Goldstein, "Now that the class is over, I feel that my social justice actions have a stronger meaning, and are anchored in something that is much bigger than my own desire to improve the community around me."

"The class energized, inspired and nurtured me, my Jewish identity, my social justice efforts and all of the places those three things connect and collide," says Abelson. "It also created a space, background, community, language and content to bring various aspects of my identity, Judaism and social justice consciousness together to strengthen each other."

Adds Abelson, "I'm sad it's over!"