When I applied for the Repair the World fellowship (which ultimately led me to become a part of DJJ), my world was a different one. It was December of 2019, I was a senior in college, I had never in my life worn a face mask before, and I didn’t even realize that I was applying to work for Jewish organizations in Detroit. In December of 2019, all I was looking for was a job that would allow me to stay in the US after graduating from college. What I got, however, was so much more!
Growing up in Germany, I was never exposed to much (contemporary) Jewish culture, and the Jewish community in my hometown, Heidelberg, is small, tiny even in comparison to Metro Detroit. Though I did learn a great deal about Jewish culture and history in Germany growing up, most of it was taught exclusively in the context of collective suffering and the trauma of hundreds of years of systemic antisemitism in German-speaking Europe.
At DJJ on the other hand, I got to not only witness, but actively participate in Jewish justice work. Together, we attended Black Lives Matter rallies, phone banked for a more just public transit system, and educated one another about strategies and tactics of social justice activism. We organized to ensure all Detroiters have access to clean and affordable drinking water, and we showed up to make it clear that DJJ believes in the integrity of elections. I’m so grateful, not only for all of the opportunities you gave me to fight for social justice, but also for the lessons you taught me about why doing justice work Jewishly is crucial to this community. Thanks to you, Elu v’Elu, Tikkun Olam and Pikuach Nefesh are more than abstract concepts to me now. Thanks to you, I now understand holidays like Sukkot or Passover not just as spiritual festivities, but as calls to action towards a more just world.
I am most grateful for all the time I got to spend with DJJniks individually. I’m grateful for Barry and Nathan, who taught me in-depth about DJJ’s approach to water justice. I’m grateful for Beth, who so openly and vulnerably shared with me her journey to becoming a better advocate for racial justice in white suburban communities. Bobbi’s passion for immigrant justice literally moved me to tears when I first realized its extent, and we all know that nothing is more effective at turning a bad day into a good one than logging onto a zoom call in which Syma’s charisma lights up the whole virtual room. The list goes on and on of course, because DJJ consists of countless kind and passionate souls.
I could go on and on about how this internship with DJJ has shaped me into the organizer, advocate, and human I am today, but this blog post can only be so long. Thus, I want to close by emphasizing perhaps the most important lesson I am taking away from my year with DJJ. As a queer person, my experience in religious spaces has historically been one of ostracization, discrimination, and othering based on nothing but my sexuality. Working with you all at DJJ, however, has radically reshaped my outlook on religion and spirituality. You all have empowered me to open my heart again, and provided me with an understanding of the healing powers an affirmative, inclusive community rooted in religion can have.
My internship with DJJ is coming to an end, and I’m moving to Chicago to attend grad school in the fall. That doesn’t mean that I’ll disappear from DJJ though -- as much as time and logistics permit it, I would love to continue organizing and existing in community with you all. If you want to connect with me, you can always email me at [email protected], or connect with me on twitter (@konrat_pekkip) or instagram (@kon.rat). I’m pumped about joining DJJ as a leader, and I can’t wait to see the ways in which this organization will continue to grow.
With love and gratitude,