Growing up as the child of a rabbi, Ben Levenson was surrounded by Jewish life, attending day school during the year and Jewish camp during the summer. As he grew older, there was a long period when he distanced himself from his Judaism, exploring new pathways as many people tend to do.
After traveling in China on his own and being unable to speak with others due to the language gap, Ben felt a distinct need to find a sense of community. He knew it was time to go home and explore his own connection to Judaism. Upon his return to the States, Ben immersed himself in social justice work in New York City while working with the group Outward Bound. At the same time, he was seeking connections with other Jewish people engaged in work for change.
At Outward Bound, Ben was largely working with low-income youth of color, and many of his coworkers went through the program as well. Learning from his students and colleagues, Ben began looking for ways to think more critically about systemic injustice and and issues like mass incarceration. That process led him to Chicago and his current work.
Today, Ben is at the North Lawndale Employment Network, where he works with citizens returning from incarceration, supporting clients with job skills and job readiness training. He’s also involved with The People’s Lobby as a volunteer leader, working on a campaign about global labor practices and wage standards.
It was in Chicago that Ben connected with an Avodah alum who suggested that he apply to the Avodah Justice Fellowship, and it was here that he started to find his community.
In the Fellowship, Ben joined a community of Jewish social change leaders who were hungry to explore issues and ideas surrounding justice work in the same way he was. Those new relationships have strengthened his own work as an activist and an organizer. And on the Jewish level, Ben found a newer and deeper connection with the Jewish tradition underlying his activism.
“I learned about the mythical idea of tikkun olam (repairing the world) when was in 4th great, but I don’t think I was engaging very deeply in that that meant. In the Avodah Justice Fellowship, I began to engage with this much more intentionally in a community, while learning new ideas from ancient Jewish texts.”