“It’s really powerful to be connected to people and organizations in the fields of social justice and change-making in Maryland,” says Service Corps Member Elianna Cooper (2020-2021 DC cohort).
Elianna has spent the last year serving as the Montgomery County Community Organizer for Jews United for Justice (JUFJ). The organization’s work spans issues including state-level immigrant rights, prison reform, and police accountability. Much of Elianna’s work has been tied to the legislative cycle, changing what her role looks like on a day-to-day basis. Before session, for instance, she focused on political issue education and helped set up pre-session meetings with legislators. During the session, she watched Maryland Senate and House hearings, facilitated watch parties, and tracked the status of different bills.
Elianna focuses on advocacy, helping volunteers to prepare and give legislative testimony, going to actions, hosting legislative watch parties, and organizing political education events. One of her fondest memories took place at the very end of the Maryland General Assembly, during which the legislators worked until midnight. Elianna and her JUFJ colleagues hosted a virtual Zoom event that framed this level of dedication with a Jewish lens. “It was really powerful to be on Zoom until midnight with people that were also engaging and watching the session until the very last second.”
JUFJ’s model works in coalition with locally based partner organizations, allowing Elianna to engage with various community leaders. “The JUFJ leader base is full of incredible, smart and kind people who are really invested in the work. I’ve enjoyed learning and growing from them. Through my placement, I have grown a lot professionally. I’ve been given substantive opportunities and robust responsibilities.”
Her ability to handle those responsibilities have secured another opportunity for her — a job. Elianna will be staying on at JUFJ after her service year ends. “Throughout this work, I developed immense respect for the work that JUFJ does and the ecosystems where they work. I had a couple conversations with my supervisor about whether there was an opportunity for me to stay and we found that there was.”
Outside of JUFJ, Elianna said she appreciates Avodah’s holistic approach to its Service Corps. She added that the communal living and Avodah programming she’s experienced over the last year has provided her with a “great space” for reflection and introspection, both privately and in community with others who are on similar journeys.
She offers this advice to our incoming Service Corps cohort: “Approach everything with a deep sense of curiosity — be looking for the things you find engaging and resonant. Also, be confident. You have a lot you can contribute to your house, community and placement. You’re there to learn, but also to contribute.”
Elianna is excited to be continuing her advocacy work through JUFJ. “I really believe in change at the systemic level. A lot of the issue areas that myself and my housemates work on are, in a lot of ways, big and complicated. But, there are also real solutions to them. Especially legislators and communities working together can do things to make things better. Community organizing holds such a key role in moving people and communities toward brighter futures.”