“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” The New Colossus, the poem affixed to the Statue of Liberty, was written by Jewish American poet and activist Emma Lazarus in 1883, but its inclusive message is as resonant as ever. That’s why the American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS)—the organization which preserves Lazarus’ papers—has launched a curriculum and poetry contest to teach the next generation about the poem and its underlying Jewish values. With support from RPF, AJHS will partner with contemporary poets and poetry organizations to ask students and adults, “If you could write a poem for the Statue of Liberty today, what would it say?” Submissions will be featured at public programs this fall.
Jewish tradition, values, and history call on the Jewish American community to protect the vulnerable, fight oppression, and work to ensure that all people have the opportunity to live with dignity and respect. Jewish grassroots organizations across the country are answering this call by working at the local and state levels to address the social injustices of our day. Now, a new initiative called the Collaborative for Jewish Organizing (the Collaborative), will bring these groups together along with the staffs of two national organizations (and RPF grantees): the Religious Action Center and Bend the Arc. Together, these leaders—who are working in places like Detroit, Maryland, and North Carolina—will share best practices, address shared challenges, and create the deep, inter-group connections effective long-term movement building requires.
Drawing on her deep experience organizing for social change, Rabbi Jennie Rosenn is creating Dayenu: A Jewish Call to Climate Action. Dayenu will mobilize the American Jewish community to confront the climate crisis through a multi-year campaign in partnership with national climate and Jewish organizations. It will also produce and distribute resources to help the Jewish community grapple with what it means to live, parent, and come of age in this perilous time.
The Institute for Jewish Spirituality’s Clergy Leadership Program (CLP), which works to strengthen moral leaders, was established nearly two decades ago and remains needed today. The 18-month program—which was developed by a small group of rabbis led by the late Rabbi Rachel Cowan—is designed to help Jewish clergy cultivate spiritual practices that benefit and sustain both them and the Jewish community that turns to them for teaching, leadership, and solace. It includes contemplative retreats that combine prayer, meditation, text study, group discussions, and ongoing one-on-one guidance from a highly regarded staff. This renewal grant from RPF supports the next cohort of 42 Jewish leaders entering the program and Hevraya, the Institute’s annual retreat for CLP alums.
Reboot is a network of artists, activists, and entrepreneurs reinvigorating Jewish life by making the old new, and the new inviting and meaningful. Reboot continues to leverage the creativity of its more than 600 members while working with more than 1,250 community partners to engage hundreds of thousands of people in Reboot-designed programming each year. This renewal grant will provide support at an especially ambitious time for the organization; with a new strategic plan in place, Reboot will launch a multi-day Ideas Festival showcasing “the biggest ideas captivating the Jewish world” in March 2020.
Led by civil rights strategist Eric K. Ward, Western States Center (WSC) is a national organization working to build a shared democracy by training community organizers and movement leaders to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion. In recent years, Ward—who has studied white supremacy for more than 20 years—has focused on combating white nationalism. For WSC, this means helping social justice organizations understand how anti-Semitism animates white nationalism, and the ways in which anti-Semitism and other forms of racism are thus inextricably linked. Inspired by the musical artists who played a role in advancing public support for Civil Rights in the ’50s and ’60s, WSC is looking to recruit and train a new kind of organizer in 2020: Americana musicians. Working in thought-partnership with groups in rural America, WSC will support touring musicians so they can effectively promote tolerance to large audiences.
Across the U.S., incidents of anti-Semitism and other forms of hate continue to be on the rise. In November 2019, the F.B.I. announced that personal attacks motivated by bias or prejudice reached a 16-year high in 2018, with 60% of attacks targeted against Jews and Jewish institutions. In response, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which has been tracking and combating anti-Semitism and protecting American civil liberties since 1913, is expanding its work in communities, on the Hill, and online. This renewal grant will provide targeted support for the Center on Technology and Society, the ADL’s Silicon Valley-based initiative that educates and works alongside executives and engineers from tech companies working to offline hate. A portion of the grant will also support the ADL’s core programming in the Los Angeles region.
The need for informed and nuanced leadership on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has always been great; now is no exception. That is where Encounter steps in. A non-partisan organization, Encounter believes that American rabbis, educators, and all Jewish communal leaders must be deeply versed in what is happening in the Middle East in order to lead effectively, regardless of their political views. The organization takes these influencers on excursions to the West Bank and East Jerusalem where they meet Palestinians and have meaningful exchanges both with speakers and one another. With renewed support from RPF, Encounter will continue its core program and ramp up an increasingly important area of work: scaffolding and supporting the network of alumni so they can lead more constructively in their home communities.
When RPF provided its first grant to Israel Story, the radio program and podcast featuring diverse, first-person accounts of everyday life in Israel had only recently debuted. Six years later, the “This American Life of Israel” has grown to be the most listened-to Jewish podcast in the world. After a strategic planning process supported by RPF, Israel Story is looking to dramatically expand its audience yet again—by growing its staff, producing more content, and launching an ambitious marketing campaign to bolster advertising revenue and sponsorships. RPF’s support will help make it possible for the program to take these steps and continue amplifying stories about the country that recognize and celebrate the humanity of all people.
Created by Jewish filmmaker Joshua Seftel, The Secret Life of Muslims is an Emmy- and Peabody-nominated series of short, first-person films that use humor and empathy to subvert stereotypes about Muslim Americans. Seftel, who regularly faced anti-Semitism while growing up in upstate New York, launched the program after seeing a rise in Islamophobia in the U.S. in recent years. Together, the first and second seasons garnered more than 60 million views via media partners including CBS Sunday Morning, USA Today, and NPR. Renewed support from RPF will make it possible for The Secret Life of Muslims to produce a third season and grow its audience even further by hosting local events, creating new partnerships, and working with Facing History and Ourselves to bring the series into classrooms.