Living the Legacy


Contemporary Jewish Labor Campaigns: The Labor Movement Begins at Home

Unit 1 , Lesson 8

Jewish Women's Archive - Living the Legacy

Contemporary Jewish Labor Campaigns: The Labor Movement Begins at Home

Lesson plan:
  1. Raising Awareness

    1. Pose the following questions to students to stimulate interest in and get a sense of what your students know about the lesson’s content. Some students may know a great deal about the topic and others very little. Give students time to write their answers to the questions, solicit their responses, and put the students’ responses on the board.

      1. What kinds of working conditions might be considered unfair, unjust, or abusive?
      2. What does Jewish tradition teach about why we should we be concerned with those who suffer unfair working conditions?
      3. Do unfair working conditions affect you personally even if you’re not the worker experiencing those conditions? Where do you interact with workers in your daily life?
      4. In what ways do unfair labor practices violate basic human rights and what methods are currently being used to abolish them?
      5. Who are some of the workers who may be most vulnerable to unfair conditions?

      Allow students to share their responses without having judgments made about them, either by the teacher or fellow students. Responses may include such statements as “I don’t care about unfair working conditions” or “I’m not responsible for working to abolish unfair labor practices.” Students are more likely to see a role for themselves in solving these societal problems, or at least to come to appreciate society’s responsibility for fair labor practices, if they are not put on the defensive for making such statements early in the lesson.

    2. Have students read the Lesson 8 introductory essay and/or do an internet search for more information on the topics of domestic work and the activism of Jewish organizations on behalf of domestic workers and on the topic of the living wage. They can start by visiting the websites of Jews For Racial Economic Justice, and looking at A Living Wage Teshuvah by Rabbi Jill Jacobs. Be sure that students gather and understand the following information:

      1. Summary of the problems that domestic workers experience or of the issue of a living wage
      2. Why Jewish organizations are working on these social problems or what Jewish organizations are advised to do regarding paying a living wage
      3. What the organizations are doing to help workers and what adopting Rabbi Jacobs’s recommendations would do for low-paid workers in Jewish organizations
  2. Before and After Improv Scenes

    1. Explain to students that they are going to be working in groups to interpret and use the primary sources, which include both classic Jewish texts and a modern-day responsum written by Conservative Rabbi Jill Jacobs to create improv scenes about current labor conditions and how they are being addressed or might be addressed by Jews.
    2. Create four groups of students, each with a minimum of two and a maximum of six students. Suggest the following roles to students as examples of whom they may choose to include in their scenes: domestic worker, janitor, home health aide, food service worker, Jewish organization personnel, employers of domestic workers, employer of shul cleaning staff, rabbis and synagogue leaders, and innocent bystanders like the students themselves who witness or benefit from the work being done. Explain that they will have 10 minutes to plan their scenes, and assign each group one of the following scenes:

      1. Domestic laborers before the establishment of a Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights
      2. Domestic laborers who have achieved a Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights
      3. Workers paid below a living wage
      4. Workers after their employer adopts the recommendations in the living wage teshuvah
    3. Read through the primary sources as a class and answer students’ questions about the sources to ensure their comprehension. Explain to students that each group must use examples in their scenes from at least two of the primary source excerpts on their sheets. They can quote directly or paraphrase.
    4. Go over the Improv Acting Guidelines. You can give an example or two to demonstrate such concepts as being aware of and using props in the space, working with scene partners versus stopping the action or making a joke that makes the scene partner look bad, etc. There’s no need to spend a whole lot of time on this, as students will likely have some experience with improv. Give students ten minutes to plan their scenes, reminding them to keep it simple and not to over direct it ahead of time.
    5. Have students perform their scenes in the order suggested in the scene list above. Be sure that the groups watching do so respectfully and applaud those performing when they are done. After the scenes are over, lead a discussion about the concepts and values concerning Jews and modern-day labor issues that you and the students noticed in the scenes. Questions to pose to students can include the following:

      1. What does Jewish tradition teach about why we should we be concerned about unfair working conditions, even if it is not a problem we experience personally?
      2. In what ways do unfair labor practices violate basic human rights? What approaches are currently being used to abolish unfair labor practices?
      3. Why do you think formal guidance and rules about working conditions and payment (such as a teshuvah about living wage, or a Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights) might be necessary?
      4. In what ways can we act in solidarity with oppressed workers in our midst?
      This last question may be the most useful for helping students apply the concepts in this lesson to their own lives. Encourage students to consider these ideas in terms of the cleaning woman who may work in their home or school, the janitor at the synagogue, or the food server at the local fast food restaurant and how the students can treat these people with dignity, respect, and appreciation. Students may also discuss how they could support workers' efforts to organize or strike for higher wages or safer working conditions. These discussions may cause students to bring the issue home to parents who may have employees in their own homes or businesses.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Living the Legacy - Lesson: Contemporary Jewish Labor Campaigns: The Labor Movement Begins at Home." (Viewed on April 24, 2014) <>.