second third round of Jewish Community Heroes is well under way, the online email-collecting exercise by the Jewish Federations of North America. My excitement for participating in these types of online activities are always pretty minimal, in this case because I’m so ambivalent about the federation system itself. Such a powerful legacy, so many shortcomings. But between TribeFest and this effort, somebody there is taking good advice.
So in the spirit of playing along, here are nominees who I believe are heroes for their justice work combating racism, poverty and injustice. In no particular order and colored by my New York-tinted glasses:
Rabbi Jill Jacobs (38 votes) is author of two books of Jewish law on social justice, a former housing rights organizer, rabbi-in-residence for Jewish Funds for Justice, and presently director of Rabbis for Human Rights-North America. Rabbi Jacobs is a soft-spoken heavyweight whose experiences as a grassroots organizer lends gravity to her halakhic writings. And don’t be mislead, her quiet demeanor is often deafening. In April 2010, after Jewish land lords accounted for 5 of the Village Voice’s annual list of 10 worst landlords, she tackled an unsightly topic headfirst. She penned “When the Slum Lords Are Us,” setting off hateful furor in parts of the ultra-Orthodox community and embarassed introspection in many of the rest of us. Recently hired as the head of Rabbis for Human Rights-North America, she led a trip to expose modern slavery in the tomato fields of Florida (pics). Damn, that my kind of rabbi.
Audrey Sasson (267 votes) is my colleague and friend who works at Pursue: Action for a Just World, a project of American Jewish World Service and AVODAH. Audrey is another living face of social justice Judaism and the irrepressibly creative organizer behind some of Pursue’s best events and strongest community. Her gregarious nature brings levity to her activism, particularly to immigration and migrant worker rights. Her work teaches young Jews to become informed and strategic activists. She’s the brightest example of not just a Jewish life committed to the betterment of the least fortunate, but that commitment lived joyfully.
Ruth Messinger (165 votes) is some I’ve admired from afar. Ruth embodies the executive activist, a globe-trotting and fast-moving mobilizer of forces great and small to confront truly monstrous injustices. As the President of American Jewish World Service for the past 13 years, she’s overseen its transformation from minor funder to global voice of Jewry against poverty. And under AJWS’ banner, she mobilized the Jewish community to support tsunami victims and against genocide in Sudan. Her pace is reportedly indomitable yet she finds time to mentor many of those who follow in her footsteps.
Jennifer Chau and her startup SWIRL were introduced to me by Audrey Sasson. SWIRL is a national multi-ethnic organization that challenges society’s notions of race. What comes naturally to mixed ethnicity folks like myself, SWIRL does the courageous work of explaining it to others. Being intermarried doesn’t pose difficult questions for the definition of “Jew,” it poses that question to every identity we mudbloods share. And her work reflects the admirable, important activism that every community must partake, ours included.
Mitch Chanin (19 votes) is rumored by those who work closely with him to be one of the Thirteen Hidden Tzadikkim. Chanin is founder and director of the Jewish Dialogue Group, the only agency in the country actively working to bring open, non-political, non-persuasive dialogue to American Jewry’s treatment of the Israel-Palestine conflict. It is under his most talented facilitation that I’ve had some of the deepest, most meaningful, and calmest conversations with right-wingers and left-wingers with whom I vociferously, achingly disagree. He is incredibly wise and overly self-sacrificing, able to truthfully see all sides of an impossible conflict and (above all) the absolute good in everyone, everyone, everyone. He has been working four years on a deliberation guidebook on the conflict soon to be released.
Erika Davis (98 votes) blog author of “Black, Gay and Jewish,” is my honorable mention because though I don’t know much else about her, her blog is an important, insightful and moving tale of wrestling with multiple identities against all expectations otherwise. Read it here.
And since nominations were open to the public, you’ll also find up there some recognizable names like blogger Max Blumenthal (18 votes), blogger Shmarya Rosenberg (50 votes), and singer Neshama Carlebach (259 votes).
But undoubtedly the “emptiest slacktivism kerfuffle award” can go to the premeditated furor organized by Jewish Voice for Peace. After nominating several of their staff and mobilizing their supporter base to vote, JVP succeeded in putting Cecile Surasky between 9th and 10th place with nearly 1,500 votes. Now given that my friends at JVP are smart people who love blusterful confrontation as much as Netanyahu, they were praying that Surasky would get nixed to score a PR coup. And because JFNA behaves like Avigdor Lieberman, she predictably was. And so JVP’s eagerly anticipated outrage was poured over the contest’s Facebook wall like, shall we say, cast lead. Congrats, everybody loses.
That said, that Cecile came down but Manis Friedman, who recommended the massacre of Arab women and children, and Leah Rubashkin, as a stand-in for her jailed husband Sholom Rubashkin, remain up makes this contest even more silly. It just makes me wonder why I even pay attention to it.