Get to Know the New-and-Improved On1Foot! An Interview with Sarah Mulhern

Exciting news! This week AJWS relaunched On1Foot, our innovative online portal for Jewish social justice texts and resources. I caught up with AJWS staffer Sarah Mulhern who manages On1Foot to get a sense of what the new-and-improved On1Foot offers our community. See below!

Tell us about the genesis of On1Foot. How did it come to be? Why do we need it?

Originally, it was simply about logistics. We used a lot of Jewish texts in our educational work at AJWS, and needed a list or database to keep them all sorted. But it quickly became clear that the need was so much bigger than the needs of our own organization. If we wanted to mobilize and transform the Jewish community to pursue justice, we needed to be able to speak and teach Jewishly about our work and our values. More than that, many people in the community needed to have access to a rich array of resources, not just the same three quotes over and over, in order to deepen their understandings of Jewish perspectives on social justice issues and to have authentic conversations. So, we set to work building a public website that would respond to some of these needs by democratizing access to Jewish wisdom related to justice.

Since you joined AJWS in September, On1Foot has undergone some exciting changes. What’s different about the new-and-improved On1Foot that launched this week?

We’ve made a lot of progress! We’ve drastically expanded the content, adding 500 new primary texts and 100 new categories. We’ve also improved the quality of the content, and added individual discussion questions to each text. We’ve redesigned the homepage to update the look of the site, and done some technical work which results in faster and easier use. We’ve expanded the user profiles and user interaction features to encourage users to share ideas and materials with each other. We’ve given users more information about the resources, introducing age level tagging and subcategory filters.

The biggest change is that we’ve launched a new section of the site devoted to divrei Torah, featuring hundreds of social justice-themed sermons tagged by issue and parsha or  holiday, which we hope will allow users to feel more prepared to speak out about justice in their Jewish communities. Overall, the site works better, looks better, and features a much broader and richer array of materials.

To date, how many registered users does On1Foot have? Who are these users?

We get about 4,500 hits from 3,500 unique individuals to the site each month. Of these, around 950 have chosen to register for the site, which is totally free and allows users to participate in the site more intensively – sharing and commenting on texts, messaging each other, pulling texts from the database into our source sheet builder to create their own classes, etc. You can see and print all the materials on the site without registering, so these folks are really taking it to the next level. These registered users include many Jewish educators and rabbis, as well as Jewish activists. I tend to think of them as either having a lot of knowledge about justice issues but looking for our support in how to talk about justice Jewishly, or having a solid Jewish background but needing some support in thinking about how to teach about social justice. We get a whole spectrum, and we’re trying to share resources that will empower all different kinds of users.

Who are some of On1Foot’s organizational partners? What value are they adding to On1Foot’s resources?

Our organizational partners rock! They represent a broad range of the best Jewish social justice organizations in the field including Keshet, Jewcology, Uri L’Tzedek, Jewish Women’s Archive, Hazon and 12 others. It’s enormously gratifying to be able to announce partnerships with 17 organizations! They add value to On1Foot because they have excellent educational materials on diverse subjects at the intersection of justice and Judaism. Our partners will be sharing these materials through On1Foot. They’re helping to make this site the most comprehensive hub for Jewish social justice texts. It’s a great example of the ways in which the movement is stronger when the organizations can partner.

What’s your favorite On1Foot text?

Don’t make me pick! I’ll dodge by saying that a text that is very much on my mind at the moment is this – I love it because it is a 19th century Jewish legal thinker coming directly up against what is, for me, the most painful question about our obligations in tzedakah. It’s obvious to me that I have a stronger ethical obligation to address the needs of those in my immediate communal and physical spheres, and that is the assumption of Jewish law. It would be the rare person who wouldn’t agree, for example, that I have more of a responsibility to make sure my sister has enough food to eat than I do to assure that a person I’ve never met in Ohio has enough food. On the other hand, how can we assure that there are limits to that ethic in order to construct a system in which impoverished people without family members or others in their immediate spheres who can support them are not left entirely without support? Reading how the author of this text struggles with and attempts to answer this question is fascinating and very wise.

Describe some of the different ways that people can use On1Foot. Do you have any tricks of the trade for navigating the site?

People can use On1Foot in many different ways. It’s a great tool for preparing a class or dvar Torah, for finding an inspirational quote, as a research tool for students . . . and users keep surprising me with the creative ways they use the materials. I had one preschool teacher say she uses On1Foot to find texts that she and her students write music to and sing! My favorite thing about the site is that every resource is tagged by issue, so if you have a general sense of what topic you want, you can pull up all the materials on that and go crazy. Another tip to remember is that once you are registered you can contact any other user of the site – so if something is confusing, shoot the person who posted it a message!

Finally, what’s the deal with the name ‘On1Foot’? Is there are story behind it?

The name On1Foot is based on the following story from the Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a:

On another occasion it happened that a certain non-Jew came before Shammai and said to him, “I will convert to Judaism, on condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.” Shammai chased him away with the builder’s tool that was in his hand. He came before Hillel and said to him, “Convert me.” Hillel said to him, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary; go and learn it.”

We picked “On1Foot” as the name for our site because the story articulates the most fundamental principle of Jewish social justice: respecting the dignity of others. On1Foot strives to bring together Jewish texts that form the commentary. Go and learn it!

On1Foot is now on Twitter! Follow us at @On1Foot_ for Jewish texts and views on the day’s most pressing social justice issues.