In the last year of his life, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. organized a faith-rooted, multi-racial movement for economic justice called the Poor People’s Campaign, an effort cut short with his assassination. Fifty years later, the wealth gap in our country has only widened. Our vast economic disparity moved Rev. Dr. William Barber II and Rev. Liz Theoharis to reimagine a Poor People’s Campaign for our time. Following two years of planning, The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival orchestrated 40 days of nonviolent action across the U.S. this spring. Leaders from RPF grantees including the Religious Action Committee, Bend the Arc, Auburn Seminary and more supported the effort by participating in actions and organizing their networks, too. Moving forward, this three-year campaign will work at the state level, training hundreds of organizers, producing and distributing public policy analysis, and giving a platform to the poor in 25 key states. This targeted work to unite low-income Americans and frame economic reform as a moral issue is designed, as Barber puts it, “not to commemorate Dr. King’s journey, but to complete it.”
As the largest Jewish denominational movement in North America, the Reform movement plays a critical role in shaping the North American Jewish response to the issues of our day. But according to the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), navigating a climate of polarization has become a stumbling block preventing many of the more than 2,000 rabbis who lead North America’s 900 Reform congregations from fully exercising their voices. The organizing arm of the URJ wants to tackle this problem by holding an in-person training for more than 100 rabbis working with politically diverse communities across the United States. This two-day, nonpartisan convening will be tailored to help participants learn and share best practices for exercising Jewish values in the public square. The project’s overarching goal: creating a pipeline of rabbis well prepared to provide moral leadership when it matters most.
Photograph by Hector Emanuel for the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.
While there is a long history of anti-Semitism in right wing circles, anti-Jewish bias has cropped up in progressive spaces, too, creating obstacles for many American Jews to participate in or support movements with which they share many values. Faith In Action—the largest faith-based community organizing network in the country—is committed to naming and facing this problem. Their plan: to hold regional trainings on the topic of “Race, Anti-Semitism, and Christian Hegemony” that engage rabbis, congregational leaders, and organizers from diverse backgrounds and are facilitated by a multi-faith, multi-racial group of highly-regarded experts. In addition to educating Faith In Action’s leaders about the intersection of White Nationalism and anti-Semitism, these multi-day gatherings will result in a new curriculum on multi-faith organizing to be used throughout the organization and shared with other groups working toward social justice.
In 1996, RPF made one of its first grants to support a rabbinic fellowship at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in New York. More than 20 years later, Rabbi Sharon Brous, one of that program’s graduates, has joined forces with six other much-loved rabbis from innovative Jewish organizations across the U.S. in order to train the next generation of rabbi leaders. Their program, the Jewish Emergent Network Fellowship, places select early career rabbis into the seven participating communities (one rabbi per community) for a two-year period, immersing them in the work of thriving congregations while providing valuable on-the-job training and mentorship. RPF’s support will help a second cohort complete this unique fellowship—ensuring stronger, more innovative leaders and a more vibrant future for Jewish communities to come.
The public discourse on college campuses around the Israel-Palestine conflict has become even more polarized in the wake of the Gaza protests this spring, leaving little, if any, room for nuanced voices. To counter this trend, OneVoice on Campus, a program that is currently active at schools across the country, will organize a national educational tour where young adult Israeli and Palestinian activists travel together to colleges campuses to talk about life in the region and how they see their shared but complicated future. This speaking tour will engage students in a conversation that helps humanize the issue and the people behind the headlines, work that is especially important given that Diaspora communities are shown to be more extreme and hardened in their views than people living in the region.
The head of a predominately black church and the leader of a confederate heritage group may make an unlikely pair, but they are part of a small group of people who have been quietly meeting since last summer, spurred by the violence in Charlottesville and the ongoing debate over confederate monuments. An initiative called the One America Movement brought them together for structured, monthly conversations on race and history—work both describe as deeply challenging but important for shared understanding and community healing.
Following months of activities, this small learning group is looking to take its relationship public, and to scale. They will do this by engaging their respective organizations (groups that have millions of members between them), their state’s political and communal leaders, and local and national media—all with the intention of replicating the project model in additional cities.
The Jerusalem Cinematheque, located on the border between East and West Jerusalem, utilizes the power of film to brings Jews and Arabs together. Previous grants from RPF has helped them subtitle movies (such as Selma and He Named Me Malala) in Arabic for the first time and host free screenings for community members and students. The Cinematheque will continue this work, engaging an increasing number of people.
Yiddish books tell us more about the history of Jewish life in Eastern Europe than perhaps any other source, and yet 98 percent of all Yiddish books remain un-translated and inaccessible to English readers. With support from RPF, the Yiddish Book Center (YBC) has been chipping away at that figure via its Translation Fellowship, a program that tasks a diverse group of scholars with making important Yiddish works available in English for the first time. Having made strides in publishing (nearly 50 fellows have translated works to date, including a previously unknown manuscript by celebrated Yiddish writer Chaim Grade being published by Knopf/Doubleday Publish Group), the Center is now looking to significantly broaden the audience for these and future translations. With support from RPF, YBC will accept 10 new fellows while determining how best to develop a larger audience for their important work.
Photograph courtesy Yiddish Book Center
More than 3,500 years after the dawn of Judaism, its texts, teachings, and culture continue to inspire a new generation of artists. Asylum Arts fosters those artists by bringing them together for artist convenings and providing them funds and training to improve the quality and reach of their work. In just over four years, Asylum Arts participants have created works seen by more than a million people. Funding from RPF will help the organization host additional international artist seminars, support new works of art from an early stage (when it’s typically hardest to find funding), and develop programming for its 528 (and growing) alumni network.
Final finishes of the Arabic-Hebrew hybrid calligraphy on the right side of a Diptych, in a music studio located under Beit Romano on the border between Jaffa and Tel Aviv. Asylum Arts supported artist Ella Ponizovsky Bergelson, 2017.