A New Kind of B’nai Mitzvah Project

What if a B’nai Mitzvah project could make a lasting change in the world? That’s what Clara Rotter-Laitman questioned as she embarked on her Jewish Learning Opportunity through the Avodah Justice Fellowship in Chicago.

Together with illustrator Kayla Ginsburg, Clara created a “zine,” a homemade magazine, for Jewish students and educators to help in creating more meaningful B’nai Mitzvah projects.

Mitzvah projects are social action initiatives that have become popular for Jewish children to take on while they prepare for their Bar/Bat Mitzvahs. Often these projects include donating to a cause or volunteering for a day. The sentiments behind these initiatives are well-intended: practice the commandment of tzedakah, charity, and encourage the act of tikkun olam, repairing the world. However,  as Clara points out in her zine, one-and-done volunteer initiatives often fall short of meaningfully addressing the issues they intend to impact. For example, volunteering at a food drive is a kind gesture, if it addresses the needs of the particular food pantry, but it doesn’t prompt a budding tween to question why a community is food insecure in the first place or help to inspire a lasting solution. Maybe a B’nai Mitzvah project could do more.

Clara believed that given the appropriate framework, tools, and resources to think bigger, young Jews could examine the root causes of poverty and other social issues and learn the best methods to effect change – through advocacy, direct service, philanthropy, and community organizing.

To help students, synagogues, and Jewish institutions explore what it looks like to meaningfully (and Jewishly) engage in social justice work, Clara and Kayla Ginsburg created the beautiful zine, that speaks to and illustrates the acts of learning, listening, and liberation, complete with worksheets and resources for educators.

“You are totally capable of analyzing the root causes of society’s problems and doing something that makes a real difference,” Clara states in the eye-catching zine.

To view, download or print the zine, visit fromstarfishtosolidarity.tumblr.com.

Want to learn how you can be a changemaker in today’s world? Apply to be an Avodah Justice Fellow!

May We Come Together

This past weekend, we once again bore witness to the tragic destruction of life that hate leaves in its path. The vile and vitriolic rhetoric and actions of neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville, Va, serve as an ever-present reminder that we must not be silent in the face of racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia and all forms of bigotry.

Images of torches, white hoods, and Nazi and Confederate flags waving in unison should sound a blaring alarm to every person in our nation. White supremacist movements put Jews, people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ people, and ultimately all people at risk of violence. Both Jewish and American history demand that we speak out and work for a nation that fully rejects hatred in all forms.

We mourn the loss of life and the injuries sustained in this weekend’s violence. We call on all, especially our nation’s leaders, to hold those who carried out these hate-filled acts accountable for their actions to the fullest extent of the law.

It was Elie Weisel who said, “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

We must also have faith that most people are good, or aspire to be good. We need more than ever to come together in our country to work toward building a society that is compassionate and caring, in which we stand up for one another. Rabbi David Rosenn, Avodah’s founder, in writing about this weekend’s events, wrote: “Building a just and compassionate society is a long game. Rev Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. played this long game. He told a group of SNCC members in 1964: ‘A big danger for us is the temptation to follow the people we are opposing. They call us names, so we call them names.'”  We must not follow in their footsteps, but instead, create the vision of what our country can be – a place where we are always striving for liberty and justice for all.

May we join together to build the world we envision.

Sincerely,

Cheryl Cook

Executive Director

Avodah

Avodah Joins 24 Faith Orgs Opposing Commission Intended to Restrict Voting Rights

Avodah joined 24 faith organizations in a letter to Congress, sent July 20, opposing the creation of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, a tax-payer funded initiative that aims to restrict voter rights.

In the letter, Avodah implores Congress not to fund the Commission, which exists solely to perpetuate unsubstantiated myths of widespread voter fraud and to lay the groundwork for restrictions on voting rights, during the appropriations process.

“We represent a diversity of faith traditions, but are united in our belief that our democracy works best when more people participate. Our traditions teach us to take responsibility for the well-being of our community by taking part in civic affairs. Moreover, we are taught to work for a society that safeguards the rights of all people – especially the sacred right to vote. People of every faith have worked tirelessly to expand the franchise, and we stand ready to protect that progress from efforts to suppress the vote under false pretenses.”

Several comprehensive studies have debunked the myth of voter fraud, finding only a handful of cases in recent history. “Looking at the facts makes clear fraud is vanishingly rare, and does not happen on a scale even close to that necessary to ‘rig’ an election,” according to the Brennan Center for Justice. While spreading false myths and requesting sensitive data, the commission has failed to recognize the greatest threat to the integrity of our elections: widespread restrictions that prevent eligible voters from casting their ballots.

“In these moments of division and strife, Congress must send the message that the voting booth is open to all eligible voters, regardless of race, class, faith or political affiliation. In your role in the appropriations process, we urge you to ensure that no funding is set aside for the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.”

We ask our representatives to refrain from directing taxpayer dollars to an operation that threatens a cornerstone of our democracy.

Click here to view the full letter to Congress.

Alumni Spotlight: Essie Shachar-Hill, Chicago 2015-2016

Essie Shachar-Hill took part in the Avodah Jewish Service Corps (Chicago 2015-16). During that time, Essie worked with Girls in the Game, an organization that works to empower middle- and high school girls through programming in sports, leadership, and health.  Essie is currently working at Keshet, a nonprofit that that works for the full equality and inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Jews in Jewish life as the organization’s full-time Boston Community Programs Intern while earning a graduate degree at the University of Michigan School of Social Work in the Jewish Communal Leadership program. In honor of June as Pride Month, Essie shared some experiences below.
What brought you to Avodah?

As my work in social justice spaces expanded in the latter years of college, I was looking for a more immersive experience post-graduation. A mentor of mine (with whom I worked on fostering a queer Jewish community on campus) was an Avodah alum and encouraged me to apply. At that time, I did not feel a connection between my Judaism and my activism, and was curious about a year-long experience that centered on this intersection.

Can you share a bit about your Corps Member experience?

A quote that comes to mind when I think of my experience in Avodah is “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” In my placement, I worked to empower my students, most of whom were girls of color from low-income households. I tried to teach them that they are powerful, important, and enough. When classmates teased them about girls being bad at sports, I showed them how to throw a football. When adults told them they were powerless as children, I supported them to make their voices heard in their school and community. I like to think that I was able to support and comfort my young clients who were continuously afflicted by the forces of racism, classism, sizeism, sexism, and ageism.

Essie worked to empower adolescent girls in Chicago while serving in the Avodah Jewish Service Corps.

Back in the office, I pushed my comfortable placement organization to be better. I challenged my coworkers to question their ableist language and pointed out racial microaggressions pervasive in the work culture. I pushed our coaches to examine why they made certain assumptions and tried to create a more trans-inclusive workplace.

In the Avodah bayit (house), I was often comfortable and my housemates, friends, and teachers lovingly afflicted me. They pushed me to be more patient, less judgmental, and more empathic. We empowered each other to be more open-minded and cooperative. In educational programming, I learned about prisons, systemic racism, poverty, immigration issues, police brutality, food injustice, housing discrimination, and my complacency in these interrelated oppressions.

Essie and Aran study talmud in the original Hebrew for the first time with Svara.

What impact did your Avodah experience have on your lifepath?

Avodah affirmed my growing suspicion that I would not be satisfied in a career that wasn’t a justice-oriented helping profession. Many of the people I met through Avodah and the activist communities in Chicago had MSWs (Master of Social Work), so I thought, “I guess I better get one of those!” Avodah also brought up a lot of questions for me about the way the Jewish community runs, so I decided to apply to the Jewish Communal Leadership Program (JCLP) through the University of Michigan’s School of Social Work, which is where I study now.

Do you have a favorite memory from your Avodah year?

I have a lot of great memories from the year with my wonderful cohort, but one that stands out is our first community Shabbat, which was Harry Potter themed. The planning committee really went above and beyond, creating a photo booth, decorating the house, and printing enlarged photos of each housemate from their b’nei mitzvah which everyone signed. I led the Shabbat service before dinner and had a ball integrating bits of the wizarding world into the service.  

Essie jams during the fall retreat. 

What led you to Keshet?

I have been a long-time admirer of Keshet’s work from afar. I think it was as early as my interview for JCLP that Karla Goldman, the director of the program, suggested an internship at Keshet, for which she is a board member. I enjoy working in identity-centered spaces, and Keshet focuses on the intersection of two of my salient marginalized identities.  

What challenges do you see members of the LGBTQ community continuing to face and what motivates your work?

A lot of people think that because LGBTQ people can now get married in the U.S., we’re all set in terms of equality. But it doesn’t matter if queer people can get married if we get fired from our jobs, can’t access healthcare, suffer disproportionately from mental illness, or are shot down in the street. Personally, in terms of things I need to live a healthy and productive life, marriage is pretty far down on the list.

Queer and trans people face additional barriers to accessing health insurance and healthcare. Even when they have access to healthcare, there’s no guarantee that providers are knowledgeable about or sensitive to LGBTQ issues. (The last two doctors I have seen were flummoxed by my simple response of “no” to the question “is your partner a man or a woman,” made assumptions up the wazoo about my identities and personal practices, and provided downright incorrect information related to queer sexual health.)

Trans and nonbinary people continue to face discrimination in all areas of life, from employment to housing to simply using public bathrooms. In most of the country, it is legal to be fired on the basis of “gender identity” (i.e., gender) or sexuality. In 2016, 22 trans people were murdered, most of whom were trans women of color.

Queer and trans youth are particularly vulnerable. Forty percent of homeless youth are LGBTQ. Queer and trans youth who are rejected by their families are eight times more likely to attempt suicide, more than three times more likely to use drugs, and more than three times as likely to be at high risk for contracting HIV and other STIs as compared to their straight/cis counterparts. Another risk for queer youth is teen pregnancy. Surprisingly, queer youth are more likely to experience teen pregnancy than their straight peers. Part of this is a result of cis/hetro-centric sex education in schools.

Assuming we make it past our teens, it’s often not smooth-sailing for queer/trans adults either. Same-sex couples often face discrimination in the adoption process. In Texas, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would allow agencies receiving state funding to deny the placement of children (through adoption or foster care) with queer parents, trans parents, atheists, interfaith couples, or anyone the agency disapproves of “on religious grounds.”

Post-election has been a particularly hard time for queer and trans folks. The LGBTQ rights page of the White House website disappeared on inauguration day, and we will not be included in the next census. (Contrary to many angry Facebook posts, we were not erased from the census. We have never been counted. Meaning we have never counted.)

Essie marches with Keshet at the 2017 Boston Pride Parade to support LGBTQ rights.

How did Avodah influence your understanding and pursuit of social justice, specifically the rights of LGBTQ individuals?

A Rabbi once told me that there is no single issue on which every Jew will agree. God, Israel, ritual, identity—every Jew will never be aligned on these issues or any other issue. In Avodah, I learned (and continue to experience) that there is no one Jewish community. On certain issues we will join with fellow Jews and on others we will disassociate, hashtagging “not my Judaism.” The opinions and beliefs of the Jewish community are as varied and nuanced as the people who hold them. In Avodah, I grappled with how a community can lift up this diversity and celebrate disagreement without rejecting people from the community and turning inward on itself.

Likewise, there is no one gay community. At the Boston Pride parade last weekend, over 300 groups marched, each representing a different contingent of the LGBTQ and ally communities. There were Jewish queer groups, Christian queer groups, senior LGBT people, queer veterans, gay dads, etc. Each of these communities has its own beliefs, and even within these specific groups there is dissent and diversity. Here at Keshet, we may serve primarily LGBTQ Jews, but again, even that is not a unified, fully-representative categorization.

Avodah showed me the complexities of causes and various communities, and I’m excited to be at Keshet where I can work in a space that’s more specific than “the Jewish community” or “the queer community.” And while there is comfort and safety in the specificity of intersectional spaces, I’m also learning about the dangers of siloing and the contexts in which unity and isolation are most healing.

Chicago Avodah at their drag-themed Purim party, March 2016.

How are you still connected to/involved with Avodah?

The friendships and lessons Essie gained in Avodah will last a lifetime.

I’m still very much in touch with my housemates, many of whom I have visited/hosted in the year since Avodah. I go to alumni events when I’m in Chicago. I have also made some connections with alumni all over the country. (Thanks, alumni listserv!)

Avodah Named ‘One of the Best’ Nonprofits by the Catalogue for Philanthropy

 

WASHINGTON, DC — June 12, 2017 — After a careful vetting process, the Catalogue for Philanthropy: Greater Washington has selected Avodah to be part of the Class of 2017-18.  Avodah has undergone an extensive review process, and has met the Catalogue’s high standards. Potential donors can be confident that the nonprofits in the Catalogue are worthy of their support.  Avodah’s mission is to strengthen the Jewish community’s fight against the causes and effects of poverty in the United States. We do this by engaging participants in service and community building that inspire them to become lifelong leaders for social change whose work for justice is rooted in and nourished by Jewish values..

This year the Catalogue celebrates its 15th anniversary: since its inception it has raised $38 million for nonprofits in the region. It also offers trainings, neighborhood-based opportunities for collaboration, and a speakers series for individuals who want to learn about and engage with the needs, challenges, and accomplishments of our shared community.

Reviewers helped select 76 charities to feature in the print edition, 34 of which are new to the Catalogue this year.

“People want to know where to give and they need trusted information. Based on our in-depth review, we believe that Avodah is one of the best community-based nonprofits in the region,” said Barbara Harman, founder and president of the Catalogue for Philanthropy.

“Our selection in the Catalogue for Philanthropy solidifies Avodah’s position as a trusted nonprofit, committed to social change,” said Jill Hertzler, Avodah DC Community Director. “We are thrilled to be a part of the amazing 2017 cohort.”

The Catalogue believes in the power of small nonprofits to spark big change.  As the only locally-focused guide to giving, its goal is to create visibility for the best community-based charities, fuel their growth with philanthropic dollars, and create a movement for social good in the greater Washington region. The Catalogue charges no fees; it raises funds separately to support its work.

 

MEDIA CONTACTS

Avodah:
Amanda Lindner
[email protected]
646-863-1550

Catalogue for Philanthropy:
Adam Shapiro
[email protected]
202-427-3603

 

Revelation and Revolution on Shavuot

 

Shavuot–the holiday marking the giving of the Torah on Sinai — begins Tuesday night. Over the past 50 days, we’ve been counting the weeks in Avodah’s Revelation and Revolution Omer project and growing in strength and compassion to refuel our work in the world.

The culmination of our counting the Omer doesn’t just mark our receiving of the Torah; it is a celebration of learning and a commitment to take part in the Jewish wisdom and values we cherish.

In the spirit of enlightenment, members of the Avodah community will be leading tikkuns – study sessions – in cities across the country, featuring traditional Jewish and contemporary social justice texts and discussion questions to foster learning during this time of revelation. Jewish wisdom has much that can illuminate the conversation about America’s sometimes difficult challenges.

Below is a taste of one of Avodah’s tikkun sessions, featuring a short excerpt. We hope you enjoy sharing this with family and friends, or reading on your own.

Wishing you a joyous Shavuot! Chag Sameach from all of us at Avodah.

 

Deuteronomy 24:14-18.  For the Hebrew and English together, click here.

You should not abuse a needy and destitute laborer, whether a fellow countryman or a stranger in one of the communities of your land. You must pay him his wages on the same day, before the sun sets, for he is needy and urgently depends on it; else he will cry to God against you and you will incur guilt. Parents shall not be put to death for children, nor children be put to death for parents: a person shall be put to death only for his own crime. You shall not subvert the rights of the stranger or the fatherless; you shall not take a widow’s garment in pawn. Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and that God your God redeemed you from there; therefore do I enjoin you to observe this commandment.

 

  • In what ways are we instructed to treat poor people in this text?
  • What are the major themes of this text? What is repeated? What is emphasized?
  • The stranger/immigrant, the fatherless, and the widow are often grouped together in Torah as a special categories of persons needing protection. What do these three categories have in common? What might this tell us about gender and poverty in this historical social context? About poverty and national identity?
  • What kind of interventions are the text calling for here? What kinds of changes does it demand and what kinds of changes does it not demand? How is the position of women in poverty in this social-historical context left changed and unchanged by these laws?
  • What thoughts and feelings come up for you when you read this text?

We Can’t Afford Trump’s Proposed Budget Cuts

President Trump announced his proposed federal budget for 2018 this week, and the news is staggering. The spending plan aims to slash $274 billion over ten years from antipoverty programs including food stamps, Medicaid, federal student loans, job training, and programs such as Meals on Wheels — all while giving large tax cuts to the wealthiest and building a wall on our southern border. This paints a stark picture for our nation’s priorities.

You see, budgets are more than spreadsheets and dollar signs. They are value statements that reflect the principles we uphold. This new budget hurts the sick and elderly, blocks access to higher education and takes away basic healthcare for the working class. This budget says to the 46 million Americans living in poverty, you do not matter.  You are not a priority for our country.  This does not reflect our values as Americans or as Jews.

As Americans, we believe in the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. As Jews, we are taught to care for the poor and vulnerable, to do whatever is in our means to prevent suffering. If we truly value these ideals, health insurance would be a right and not a luxury reserved for the privileged. Parents wouldn’t have to fear that they won’t be able to afford medicine or a doctor visit for their child. Our elderly wouldn’t worry where their next meal would come from.

As the Executive Director of Avodah, I’m deeply concerned. We know that these disastrous cuts to health care coverage, public assistance programs and the evisceration of antipoverty organizations will pull the rug out from working families and ultimately throw more people into poverty.

Avodah’s core mission is to strengthen the Jewish community’s fight against both causes and effects of poverty in America. These potential cuts target the most vulnerable people in our society; it’s urgent that we put our Jewish values into action. I urge you to join us and oppose this administration’s proposed cuts to Medicaid, food assistance, and crucial antipoverty programs. We have the power to  preserve  the wellbeing  of millions of Americans and build the kind of society we wish to see in the world.

Find your representatives here, or call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 to urge them to oppose the President’s budget proposal. And if you have a personal story of surviving on food stamps, growing up on Medicaid, or using other safety net programs in our country, please share them when you call. Join the conversation and share your experiences on our Facebook page here. Your stories can make a big difference.

What impact would cuts to food stamps, Medicaid or other safety net programs have on your life? Leave your stories in the comments below

 

Avodah strengthens the Jewish community’s fight against the causes and effects of poverty in the United States. We do this by engaging participants in service and community building that inspire them to become lifelong leaders for social change whose work for justice is rooted in and nourished by Jewish values.

Alumni Spotlight: Rachel Brammer-Shlay

Avodah Service Corps Alumna Rachel Brammer-Shlay Speaks About Her Work as a Psychotherapist During Mental Health Month

Rachel Brammer-Shlay is an Avodah Service Corps Alumna (NYC 2012-13). During her Avodah year, she worked with the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services (JBFCS)—Break Free and TAYPE high school in Brooklyn. After her Avodah year, Rachel continued her work in the mental health field and today, she is a Licensed Creative Arts Psychotherapist at one of New York’s public hospitals. In honor of May as Mental Health Month, Rachel shared her experience below.

 

Where and when was your Avodah placement?

I was placed at the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services — Break Free, and TAYPE high school in Brooklyn during 2012 and 2013.

Can you share a bit about your role there?
While at JBFCS, I served as a Case Associate. I assisted adolescents at an alternative school and on-site drug treatment milieu connected to the adolescent outpatient mental health clinic. During that time, I developed and facilitated a weekly after school “young feminists club” for interested students, provided additional support, supervision of clients and assistance to staff as needed, co-facilitated psycho-educational and therapy groups, provided crisis intervention, accompanied clients on trips and appointments, coordinated client care with teachers and therapists, facilitated one on one and group mediation and conflict resolution, and collected and submitted drug screens and medical request forms
What did you learn about mental health that you didn’t know before your placement?

One point that my Avodah placement really drove home is that mental health services are often wrongly pegged as a luxury service. Addressing mental health issues is seen as a secondary concern when working with individuals and families experiencing poverty, when in reality, addressing mental health can often help alleviate poverty and vice versa.

What do you do now?

I am a Licensed Creative Arts Psychotherapist, specializing in Dance/Movement Psychotherapy. I work in a pediatric inpatient psychiatric unit in one of New York’s safety net hospitals (part of the NYCHH public hospital system). I provide group and individual psychotherapy with a focus in creative arts therapeutic interventions, specifically that of dance/movement therapy, as well as talk therapy.

What does dance and movement therapy involve? How does it work?

Dance and movement therapy uses the body and movement as the inroad to the psyche and utilizes dance- and movement-based interventions to connect with clients. Attuning to a client’s movement patterns is a nonverbal way to connect with clients and let them know that you see them. Working with them to modify and further develop their movement patterns can correlate with healthy changes in their emotional, cognitive, behavioral, and social patterns. Dance/movement therapy is accessible to all populations because everyone has a body and everybody experiences some range of movement—it’s the most accessible way to connect with others.

In your experience, what challenges do you see individuals face when trying to access mental health services? Can you give an example?

I think the biggest barrier to accessing mental health services is poverty; that’s why I’m so proud to work for a safety net public hospital that will serve anyone, regardless of insurance or financial status. Most of the clients I serve are victims of systemic poverty and racism and much of their mental health issues are a result of this systemic oppression — it should be the burden of the system that creates these cases rather than the burden of the individuals to remedy their mental health concerns. When mental health is privatized, it creates the false idea that therapy and other mental health services are luxuries that can only be afforded to rich (and predominantly white) folks. The demand for mental health services is also in stark contrast with the supplies. For example, many low-income folks who require mental health services are put on wait lists ranging from weeks to months to just to get an intake appointment. Can you imagine someone having a heart attack today and being like “ok, you’re all set to see us in August”? That may sound like hyperbole but it’s not. People experiencing chronic mental illness are in immediate crisis and putting these individuals in situations where their needs are not met in a timely manner could cost them their lives. I work in inpatient psych, which does address these crisis in a more immediate way, which often means that we get a lot of unnecessary admissions simply because individuals don’t have access to affordable or timely outpatient or community-based services, so they opt for inpatient care.

Would you consider access to quality health care and mental health services to be a social justice issue? How so?

Absolutely. If access to quality health care and mental health services are unavailable, then how can we expect anyone to be a productive member of society? Our bodies and our minds require constant maintenance — our current healthcare system suggests that this maintenance is more essential and therefore more readily available to some (mainly wealthy and white individuals) than to others (namely poor people of color) — this is a social justice issue.

Can you highlight the connections between health outcomes and privilege, or lack thereof?

Access to quality health care is more readily available to people with more money, which most commonly correlates with White cis-gendered and straight men, because that’s how intersectionality of oppression generally works. That’s why it’s so important that we have women, trans folks, queer folks, people of color, and people of varying socioeconomic statuses making decisions about our health care access, because these are the individuals who the system currently works against and who understand the direction the healthcare revolution needs to go.

How do you think we can help end the stigma of mental illness?

Talk about mental illness! When you’re going to therapy, say, “I’m going to therapy” and don’t hide behind some generic statement like “I have an appointment”. Therapy is health maintenance and the more we normalize therapy and other mental health services, the less shame there is around receiving and benefiting from these services. The best thing we can do to end the stigma of mental illness is not to contribute to it with our own prejudice and shame.

What is one thing you wish more people understood about mental health disorders/illness?

Mental health disorders and illnesses are so common! One in five Americans experience mental illness and we’re still so afraid to talk about it and share our stories. One in every 12 people has asthma and nobody’s whispering in shame about using their rescue inhaler or seeing the asthma specialist. Why are we so afraid to talk about an experience that is so common? I think it’s because we still have this “mind over matter” attitude when it comes to mental illness and the age-old pull yourself up by your bootstraps comes to mind. Mental illness is real, it’s common, it’s complicated, and it hurts a lot of people. We only hurt these people (and ourselves) more when we belittle their experiences and minimize their all too important mental health needs.

Learn to Fight Injustice: Avodah Partners with JOIN for Justice to Host Leadership Trainings Across US

 

 

What does it take to be a trailblazer in the Jewish social justice movement? Avodah is excited to announce a new partnership with JOIN for Justice to sponsor a national series of leadership trainings in cities across the U.S. to help new and experienced community advocates build the skills needed to make effective and impactful long-term social change.

We are living in a historic moment when many Jews across the country are feeling energized to speak out and advocate for vulnerable populations. The “ROAR” (Resistance, Organizing, Action, and Resilience) trainings will explore step-by-step campaign development techniques to build power and generate the greatest possible impact. Organizing professionals will explore how to work across lines of difference, find strength and resilience, and illuminate the Jewish wisdom that can guide us and ground us in this moment. This is a unique opportunity for social justice advocates to come together to participate in community organizing and plan actionable goals for the coming years.

The ROAR trainings will take place in more than fifteen cities across the country. Interested in attending a training? Check below for an event near you. If you don’t see your city below and want to stay updated, you can sign up and be notified if a training session is added in your city. Please email [email protected] to learn more.

 

Upcoming Trainings:

CA: Los Angeles – Sunday, June 4 from 9AM-5PM. Register here!

FL: Miami – Sunday, June 4 from 9AM-5PM. Register here!

LA: New Orleans – Sunday, June 11 from 9AM-5PM. Register here!

MA: Boston – Sunday, June 11 from 9AM-5PM. Register here!

MI: Detroit – Sunday, June 25 from 9:30AM-5:30PM. Register here!

MO: St. Louis – Sunday, June 4 from 9AM-5PM. Register here!

PA: Pittsburgh – Sunday, May 28 from 9AM-5PM. Register here!

TX: Dallas – Sunday, June 25 from 9AM-5PM. Register here!

Remembering Deb Cotton, Our Partner in Justice

 

“Justice, justice you shall pursue.”

Perhaps no one embodied the spirit of those words more fiercely than journalist and activist Deborah Cotton, Avodah’s recent New Orleans Partners in Justice Honoree, whom we are deeply saddened to announce died May 2 of injuries sustained in a mass shooting nearly four years ago.

In 2013, Cotton was reporting on a Mother’s Day second-line parade, a staple of New Orleans culture, when two young men, brothers, opened fire into the crowd, injuring 19 people. Cotton, who was the most gravely injured, nearly lost her life that day when a single bullet barely missed her heart. Despite being permanently injured and forever changed, she went on to publicly forgive the shooters and became an outspoken advocate for the rights of crime survivors, restorative justice and prison reform.

“Deb lived and breathed the Jewish values that are at the core of Avodah’s work. She stood up for justice, and embraced those she differed from with love. She formed deep connections and lived as an example of the change she wanted to see in the city she called home. These are the Jewish values we teach and the morals we preach. They are the core of what we believe Jewish leaders should embody and what we at Avodah aim to instill in future generations. There is no one we could have been more honored to recognize and stand beside in our mission to create a more just world,” Avodah Executive Director Cheryl Cook said.

 

Survival and the Power of Forgiveness

During Avodah’s Partners in Justice event on April 23, Cotton recounted her story of survival, forgiveness and shared how her upbringing shaped her steadfast drive for social justice.

“My mother’s Jewish and my father’s black, and those two cultures give me my fortitude, my gasoline, my perspective,” she told the audience of Avodah Service Corps members, alumni, organizational partners and supporters.

In the years following the shooting, while undergoing more than 30 surgeries to treat her injuries, Cotton called, and shared letters with one of the shooters with whom she had made a connection. She said that she wanted to understand the circumstances in his life that led him to spray bullets into a parade. Their relationship grew and she became a mentor for the young man, who she learned had been born into the drug trafficking gang behind the shooting.

“At the sentencing hearing, I said to them (the shooters), ‘I want to be here for you. You weren’t born to shoot up a parade. That’s not going to be the end of your epitaph. You still have the capacity to do good. To make a difference. To change the world, even from behind bars. And I’m going to be here to support you.’”

“I think people were stunned that I would actually feel compassion for these young, black men,” she said.

Cotton told the crowd that she is now fighting to appeal their life sentences. “I wanted those boys to have another opportunity at life.”

 

Deb Cotton with Avodah New Orleans Advisory Council Member Simone Levine
Deb Cotton with Avodah New Orleans Advisory Council Member Simone Levine

 

Leaving a Mark on the World

“One of the Jewish tenets that I live my life by is tikkun olam, repairing the world. And if I do anything else before I leave here, I need to have made my presence felt and do my piece to repair the world,” she said.

She reminded the crowd that no one needs to wait a single minute to start making the world a better place. “It’s always the right time to do the right thing,” Cotten said.

“Our hearts are heavy as we say goodbye to our friend and dear partner. Deb leaves behind a powerful legacy of forgiveness, strength, and an unwavering belief that one person can make a difference, no matter their circumstances. Her remarkable resilience and untiring commitment to creating a kinder world is a source of inspiration. There is no one we could have been more honored to recognize at our Partners in Justice event in the city she loved most,” Cook said.

Zikhronah livrakha, may her memory be a blessing.

To watch to Deborah Cotton’s full speech, click here.