Introducing our new Program Associate, Valeriya Epshteyn!

 

Shalom all! I hope this introductory blog finds you well. I’m frankly starstruck to be writing to you from my platform as DJJ’s new Program Associate.

Valeriya

 

I hail from Kharkiv, Ukraine and a couple metro Detroit suburbs. I immigrated with my family to the United States in 1999, seeking religious asylum due to ongoing anti-Semitism.

As a younger person, I was quite detached from my Jewish heritage. However, I was blessed to attend Tamarack Camps on scholarship my second year of Fishman through Agree Outpost. Tamarack was my original mainstay for Jewish learning, and I credit it with introducing me to and beginning to ossify some seriously transformative ideas about transcendental experiences in nature, Leave No Trace principles and other ways to healthily interact with our planet, and more - so much more. Tamarack served as a foundation for what is my constantly evolving consciousness about how I show up for environmental and communal sustainability, especially Agree Outpost (Amit Weitzer, if you’re reading this, thanks for all that you do).

I took a lot of Tamarack-inspired values with me to college, where I thought I wanted to be a scientist. When Dr. Dorceta Taylor introduced me to Environmental Justice, I knew things had to change about how I related to conservation, climate change, and society overall. It is so clear - and Detroit has many examples of how - that environmental degradation is not equitably distributed throughout our world. Those on the margins of the margins are saddled with the brunt of the pollution, the failing infrastructure, and the wholesale negligence of so-called governmental and corporate oversight bodies. This is no accident; this is systemic, historically derived oppression.

Over the past four years as a college student, I took a lot of these intellectual concepts and began to act with my peers on issues of injustice. I graduated about a month ago from the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor with a B.A. in Environmental Justice and Activism through the Program in the Environment. As a student, I lived in the Inter-Cooperative Council coops, I organized for fossil fuel divestment, I built student youth organizer capacity statewide with the Michigan Student Power Network, I supported the Midwest Environmental Justice Network, and I was active in the Graham Sustainability Institute. My organizing chops were really built in student communities, and they were deepened through my interaction via the University of Michigan Semester in Detroit (SID) program in the Detroit Environmental Justice scene.

Rabbi Alana and the DJJ community first graced my life when I was doing SID. Since then, DJJ and T’chiyah events have given me a second chance at Judaism. Although I come to DJJ as a relative newcomer, I already feel that I have found my people. The things that give me joy outside of Jewish spirituality and organizing include writing, farming and gardening, and spending time with human and non-human critters outdoors. A few main aspirations of mine include to be responsible for my own food supply and to have a long-term, intergenerational cooperative community to call home. I would also like to live with all of the cats.

My main DJJ project at the moment is supporting the work of so many DJJ leaders and partner organizations who have collaborated on the ‘67 Rebellion Series. Also catch me supporting the Breathe Free Detroit coalition in organizing against the Detroit incinerator. On my own time, I’m part of the RYSE National Youth Council and I’m constantly looking to meet new people, find new music, and tend to gardens. If you’d like to spend an hour together and learn about each other one-to-one, reach me at valeriya@detroitjewsforjustice.org or (248) 802-5302. I look forward to meeting and building with you.


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