Living the Legacy

Guess What's Being Taught in my Sunday School Class?

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Chalkboard of Jessica Kirzane Photo

A few weeks ago, on the Sunday before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I posed a question to the students in my class on "Jews and the Civil Rights Movement": "If you could plan a Jewish commemoration for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, what would it be? Who would be the audience? What would you do? Why should Jews, as Jews and in Jewish communities, commemorate this holiday?"

Where Are You? Searching for our Social Justice Role Models

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Group with "Thou Shalt Love Thy Neighbor" sign
Judith Frieze Intake Image

This piece was inspired by a webinar on “Jews and the Civil Rights Movement” presented by the Jewish Women's Archive in collaboration with AVODAH as part of the AVODAH Alumni network’s distance learning program. It  was originally posted on AVODAH's blog on February 5, 2013.

In 2009 I attended a workshop focused on Anti-racist organizing for white folks. The presentation allowed for self-reflection and next steps in our own organizing. At the end of the workshop, we were asked to share who our white social justice role models were. It was shocking, although not surprising, that the majority of the attendees shared that they did not have any white, social justice activists to look up to. I’ve been searching for my answer to this question ever since.

Tikkun Olam in a Mississipi Freedom School

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Image of Heather Booth and Fannie Lou Hamer

On February 1, 1960, four black students in Greensboro, North Carolina, sat down at a race-segregated lunch counter in Woolworth’s and asked for service. When the waitress refused to serve them, they remained seated. This act of passive resistance launched a mass Civil Rights Movement involving tens of thousands of black southerners demanding equality and an end to the hideous system of racial segregation. I was a vocal music teacher in junior high school in the Lower East Side of Manhattan then, and not that much older than these students. Their courage and dignity in the face of constant violence fired my heart and mind.

Rosa Parks and Hanukkah: Why Ignorance Isn't Always Bliss

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Flame Photo

On the Thursday night before Hanukkah began, I attended an event called A Sip of Eser, an introductory session to the ten-part young adult learning program Eser (meaning 10) run by Hebrew College in nearby Newton, MA. Amidst the tumult of a Boston bar, and alongside several dozen people I had never met, I heard rabbinical student, Seth Wax, tell a Hanukkah story none of us had ever heard.

In the Name of Allah: What a Young Afghani Woman Has Taught Me

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Afghani Girl Photo

Tell someone a story, and you don’t know what will happen next.

Last summer I was lucky to study at the Jewish Women’s Archive’s Institute for Educators. We spent five intense days learning the Living the Legacy curriculum with top scholars in social activism, Jewish feminism and history. In the coming months, I will be using Living the Legacy to teach a series of social justice workshops to teens in western Massachusetts.

But something else happened because of what I learned at the Jewish Women’s Archive.

Prinz, Persecution, and the Pursuit of Justice

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I’ve been working at the Jewish Women’s Archive since the day after Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in 2011. In my almost-three years here, I have learned one thing above all else: in order to understand ourselves, to know our past, and to build our future, we must tell our stories. And this past week has been one of my most favorite weeks of story telling as every blog, news agency, and Facebook user has shared anecdotes, historical photos, and reflections of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Last week I highlighted some little-known historical facts about the March, including the involvement of Jews in the event. Since then, I have seen Rabbi Joachim Prinz’s name and words all over the Internet as Jews claim him as our own and passionately take up the legacy of his work for civil rights and social justice.

50 Years On: 5 Things I Learned About the March on Washington

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The Emma Lazarus Federation of Jewish Women's Clubs

In honor of the 50th anniversary of the March tomorrow, I would like to share 5 things I have learned about the March on Washington that you may not already know—one for each decade. I hope you’ll take this opportunity to check your assumptions and look more closely at this monumental, game-changing event.

Dayenu. Dayenu. Dayenu.

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Image of Heather Booth and Fannie Lou Hamer

This past year, I took a group of seven teens on a tour of the American South. The trip was inspired by my desire to infuse young people with a sense of history and context as it relates to Judaism in the South and Jews in the Civil Rights Movement.

We began in Atlanta, then drove to Alabama, stopping in Birmingham, Montgomery, Selma, and many places in between. We met with people who had lived through segregation and fought against it. We saw the Rosa Parks Museum, experienced history, and talked about what it means to be an American Jew from the Northeast.

Why history is not just about the past

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Triangle Shirtwaist Funeral March Photo

A fire blazes through a garment factory. The building has too few exits and not enough fire escapes. Fire equipment cannot reach the fire. More than 100 people—many of them young women—die. Bodies, burnt beyond recognition, line the floor of a government building, awaiting identification.

If you’re thinking, “I know that story—it happened at New York’s Triangle Shirtwaist Company in 1911,” think again. Though the details fit the Triangle tragedy, the scene I’ve just described is the deadly fire at the Tazreen Fashions factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, this past Saturday night.

JWA Spotlights Jewish Women's Activism

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LTL Institute Photo

Like all large groups of people, American Jews are complex and irreducible despite some aspects of shared culture. Recently, the Jewish Women’s Archive made an interesting choice to focus a new curriculum on Jewish involvement in the labor and civil rights movements — without cheerleading or focusing solely on women’s involvement — thereby shining a probing light on that very complexity.

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