Living the Legacy


Workers and Their Allies, Then and Now

Unit 1 , Lesson 4

Jewish Women's Archive - Living the Legacy

Workers and Their Allies, Then and Now

Lesson plan:
  1. Defining Spheres of Support

    Give each student a blank sheet of 8 ½ by 14’’ paper and a writing implement. Begin by encouraging students to think about their lives and the privileges they have:Think about your daily life. What kind of house do you live in? How do you get from place to place? What kind of food to you eat? What does your family do for entertainment or for fun? Many of us live within our means and have our basic needs met. We also have the privilege of buying new clothes, going out to the movies, or eating out at restaurants. Think about your family specifically and what privileges and opportunities you have. (Vary how you say this depending on the socio-economic realities of the students you teach.) Then ask students: In such circumstances, for whom do you feel responsible?

    Explain that they should draw a small circle in the center of the left third of their paper with their name in it to signify themselves. (See an example of this project) Now explain:

    • Think of all of the people you are connected to or whom you know. Who would you help if they were experiencing grave needs for food, clothing, shelter, or health care? What if the they were in danger of life-threatening oppression?
    • Now, draw several circles around the circle with your name. Each of these indicates a different level of responsibility you feel to help people in this situation. In the circle closest to your name, list the names of individuals or groups you feel most responsible for, perhaps “my family,” “my best friend Josh,” or “my dog.”
    • Place the names of people or groups you feel connected to, but less responsible for, in the next circle, and so on.
    • Continue this list, moving outwards until you are listing people you feel almost no responsibility to help on the outside. This may include people you don’t know or even people you think of as your enemies.
    • You should use as many additional, concentric circles as you need need to show the degrees of responsibility you would feel for various people in need.

    Be sure to explain that There are no right or wrong answers here, no correct number of circles or correct groups of people who belong in any of the circles. This is an opportunity for you to think about whom you might feel responsible for given the current circumstance of your life. Give students time to make their drawings. Wait until you’ve gone through all three drawings the students will make in the exercise before discussing the students’ work.

    Now share this scenario with the students: If a natural disaster, such as a tornado or hurricane, were to occur in your geographic area and you managed to stay safe while it was happening, who would you try to help after the danger had passed? Draw a circle with your name in it in the center section of your paper and repeat what you did before, this time keeping in mind the situation of a natural disaster in your community. You may find that some groups change and that your circles narrow or broaden. That is okay, this is just an exercise.

    Continue to the last scenario (one script is given here, but please be sensitive to your students’ actual economic circumstances and vary what you say accordingly) by saying: Now draw a small circle in the center of the right third of your paper and put your name in it. Imagine that you are living in hard economic times similar to the Depression of the 1930s, when one quarter to one third of the American working population was out of work. There is no money for school supplies or for new clothes for school this year. Your family has had to stop going out for dinner, to the movies, and doing other entertaining things. You must share your computer with siblings and parents, and there’s no money for new video games, etc. Yet your family isn’t experiencing the worst of it. Also imagine that you know people who have to go to soup kitchens for dinner and have to get their groceries at food pantries. One of your friends has even dropped out of school to help their family by working full time. Keeping this in mind, add circles around your name to illustrate those whom you’d try to help if you were in this situation.

    Ask students to share their diagrams in pairs. Direct the students to notice how their pictures changed or didn’t change depending on the scenario. When you come back together as a group, ask students to share a similarity and a difference they noticed between their own and their partner’s diagrams. You can ask questions such as:

    • Did anyone put people you didn’t know closest to yourself, with family members further out?
    • Did the number of circles and groups of people you’d help increase, decrease, or stay about the same with each scenario?
    • Why do you think some people might try and help others more when you’re in the same situation (e.g. the first scenario about a natural disaster) than when you’re doing better (e.g. what they showed in the first drawing)?

    It’s important not to judge what students say and to encourage students to understand choices that may be different from their own. Ask neutral questions that will help students explain their decision making process and facilitate an open discussion between members of the group.

  2. Document analysis

    Give each student a copy of the document study to discuss in hevruta groups of two. After reviewing the documents, direct students in a discussion about the “spheres of support” they noticed were discussed in each of the documents.

    Ask students to muse about whether or not they could make rules about when their own spheres of support might expand or contract. Ask:

    Encourage students to brainstorm a list of the kinds of support they might offer. Their lists should include a range, from direct aid and financial charity to forming interest groups that work to change the behaviors of oppressors, encouraging consumer boycotts, and lobbying the government to investigate illegal labor practices, for example. See the introductory essay for this lesson and essay for Lesson 8, as well, which discusses the Jews for Racial and Economic Justice Shalom Bayit campaign, in which Jewish women hiring domestic workers are learning to be allies by using fair labor practices.

    • Could you make rules about when your “spheres of support” might expand or contract?
    • Under what circumstances might your circles change to include or exclude more people?
    • Did anyone’s circles stay the same no matter what happens?
  3. What Would You Do?

    Before moving into the research portion of this lesson, it may help to take social justice out of the abstract by asking students to consider what they would do in a hypothetical situation that they may encounter in real life.

    Divide the students into groups of three and give each group one of the following hypothetical situations to consider. It is okay if multiple groups are discussing the same scenario.

    Scenario 1: You discover that your favorite restaurant, or a restaurant you and your family visit often, is not paying its employees fairly. As a result, some of the waiters and cooks have to work two or even three jobs in order to pay rent and buy food for their families.

    Scenario 2: A friend shares an article with you about the company that produces your favorite brand of jeans. You find out that the factory where your clothes are made has been dumping toxic chemicals into the neighborhood nearby. People have been reporting finding dead wildlife and several people have been hospitalized after coming in contact with the waste.

    Scenario 3: After your class, you find out that the janitor at your synagogue/school is very sick. Unfortunately, the janitor doesn't have health insurance and treatment for the illness costs thousands of dollars.

    After reading the scenario, each group should discuss:

    1. What would you do?
    2. Why might it be hard for you to help? What difficulties might you encounter?
    3. Why might some people choose not to help?

    A handout with the scenarios and discussion questions can be found in the "Handouts" section.

    After each group has read through their scenario and had a few minutes to discuss the questions, have the students share their scenarios and responses with the group. At this point in the conversation, have your students highlight the last two questions as these are important pieces to consider when one is trying to make a change in the community.

  4. Get Involved! Learning About Contemporary Campaigns of Jews and Allies Working for Social Change

    Students will design a brochure, reproduce the brochure so that everyone in the class will have one of each brochure produced, and present their organization in a Volunteer Day Exposition.

    A sample list of organizations that do immediate aid, human rights, leadership training, labor and consumer advocacy work, and education is given below. Teachers are encouraged to determine whether or not to include organizations that are not specifically Jewish and to add organizations with which the schools or synagogues they are working in are involved. Teachers might also include student-generated ideas for organizations the students may have done service work for or support already or with which the students already know they would like to get involved.

    Directions to students:

    1. Choose an organization that works to help people in economic, political, or social need and research it on the internet. A sample list of organizations is given below, and your teacher may add local organizations, as well as organizations that you or some of your classmates already know something about to the list. It may be that your school or synagogue already has literature on some of these kinds of organizations, and you can use that literature as well.
    2. After finding the organization on the internet, go to the “about us” button and read the mission statement and about the work the organization says it does. Be sure also to look at the places on the website that describe actual, ongoing projects in which the organization is involved.
    3. Answer the following questions for your organization:
      1. How does this organization work to help people? Does the organization advocate for people, for example, by lobbying for legislation or do direct action with people in need? In other words, what is its approach to making change in the world? Do they raise and dispense money, or do they do direct work in the field, as well? Do they educate and raise awareness on the topic?
      2. Does the organization work locally, nationally, or internationally? Does that depend on what they’re doing for people?
      3. Who does the organization serve? What are their “spheres of support” – which communities do they work with, and who don’t they serve?
      4. Do paid staffers or volunteers do the work? Is it a combination?
      5. In what ways is the organization eliciting Jews as allies for social change?
    4. Get a copy of the organization’s logo; notice the colors it uses in its literature, logo and on its website; get information that potential volunteers would need if they wanted to get involved.
    5. Design your own brochure for the organization. Make it appealing, something that would catch a person’s eye if they saw it sitting on a table with lots of other similar kinds of literature. But also make sure it uses the organization’s actual logo and colors. It could be a simple 4-sided brochure with a fold down the middle; it could have two folds, for a total of six columns front and back, etc.
    6. Choose information to put in the brochure so that you are using every space well to convey your organization’s great work. When someone picks up the brochure, they should have a clear sense of:
    • The name of the organization
    • What the organization does
    • How the organization does what it does, eg. legislative advocacy, direct action, education, etc. What is its approach to change?
    • Where it operates, eg. locally, nationally, internationally, etc.
    • Who it works with – the core constituency group with which it is allying?
    • How to get in touch to help the organization do its work
    • How it’s unique
    • Why a Jewish person would want to be involved with this organization, if it’s not specifically a Jewish organization
    1. Make the brochure and then prepare a presentation that includes the information above. You may want to find a short success story to tell—the organization website very likely has such stories—that conveys all the information above in a more moving way than just reading what’s on your brochure.

    Teachers can use the following questions to have students discuss the brochures when they are ready to present:

    1. What are some similarities between the different organizations?
    2. Which organizations are primarily fund raisers and money dispersal organizations? Which do direct action? Which are advocacy organizations? Which are education organizations? What are the different approaches to making social change that are represented by these brochures?
    3. Which organizations provide opportunities or volunteers to work directly with people in need? What organizations do you need professional credentials to work for? What are the different ways you can get involved to support these organizations?
    4. Which organizations are connected to specific Jewish historical experiences or specific Jewish values? What are these experiences/values?
    5. How would volunteers become partners for change with oppressed people?

    Partial List of National Organizations for Students to Research

    • American Jewish World Service,
    • Rabbis for Human Rights – North America,
    • Uri L’Tzedek,
    • Bnai Brith,
    • Henry Street Settlement,
    • National Council of Jewish Women,
    • Fair Trade USA,
    • Avodah,
    • Religious Action Center of the Union for Reform Judaism,
    • Jews for Racial and Economic Justice,
    • Interfaith Worker Justice,
    • Jewish Organizing Institute and Network (JOIN),

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Living the Legacy - Lesson: Workers and Their Allies, Then and Now." (Viewed on April 19, 2014) <>.