I remember a fateful gathering in Rabbi Alana Alpert’s Woodbridge living room back in 2015. Nestled on cozy couches amongst new and old friends, I listened to Rabbi Alana and Andy Levin as they shared their vision for a new organization in Metro Detroit.
They painted a picture of a surprising and provocative organizing model that would mobilize Metro Detroit Jews to pray with our feet in support of local racial and economic justice movements. I remember feeling curious - even skeptical! - but eager to see what would come next. I also felt something new for me: a sneaking sense of belonging to a Jewish community. I regretted that I would miss out on the next stages of brainstorming, as I was soon to leave Detroit for a year to pursue my Master’s in Public Affairs. But I resolved to keep a finger on the pulse of these interesting developments in “Jewish justice work” (a new phrase to me at the time) back in Detroit.
In a few months I joined Rabbi Alana and a small but growing organization called “Detroit Jews for Justice” as a crackerjack intern, and later, joined staff as DJJ’s first community organizer. I am struck now to revisit some reflections I wrote in those early days:
“Through countless experiences over the past two months, I have started to explore - essentially for the first time - why being Jewish is important to me and to my outlook on the world. As I settle into this incredible group of Jews young and old, suburban and urban, I'm beginning to understand that my Jewishness is not adjacent to my social justice values - much more than that, it is completely intertwined. It is a perspective I can bring to the table in fighting injustice.”
Only a few years later, I now consider pursuing justice as a Jew as core to my identity. That’s a testament to the transformational power of our work - and it’s why I’ve never quite been able to pull myself away from DJJ! After leaving staff, I spent the last three years as an active volunteer leader on DJJ’s Freedom Team, and in recent months I’ve had the awesome opportunity to work as a consultant and facilitator for DJJ as we work to launch an independent 501(c)3 organization and new Board of Trustees. (Stay tuned for more on that soon!)
I’m so excited to now have the opportunity to serve DJJ in a new way as the incoming Deputy Director! The incomparable Susannah Goodman leaves an absolutely remarkable legacy in this role and I will do my best to carry the torch. Luckily, she has left me with fantastic spreadsheets, work management tools, and lots of sage wisdom.
I am thrilled to join an incredible staff team in Allie, Elijah, and now Solomon, and to jump back in with our phenomenal DJJ leaders and partners. (Check out the photo on the right - then-DJJ leader Allie and I at a protest downtown back in the day!) In my role, I’ll be collaborating with Allie to support our staff and further develop our organizational systems and structure, helping to strategize the direction of our political work, and supporting our Board of Trustees and operations transition. Though our staff is larger than it was when I last worked for DJJ, I’ve been pleased to find it’s still very much a collaborative environment! So I’m sure I’ll have the chance to work with you on something soon.
I’ll leave it to a younger version of myself to share some closing thoughts that still ring true for me today. In 2016, I wrote: “I have yet to solve the puzzle of where I fit in the world and the struggles of our time, and maybe I never will. But I know that my Jewish identity was a missing piece - and it's helping me to approach social justice work with a new clarity, with excitement, and most importantly, with love. I know this is only the beginning of my relationship with DJJ, and I'm so excited for what's to come.”
Little did I know! I’m looking forward to building this holy work with love – and you all – in the year 5783.