Timing is everything. I’ve been asked a gazillion times why I’ve spent most of my time since leaving my job around the DC area.
In the summer of 2009, the executive director of JUFJ emailed to ask me to consider applying for the inaugural Jeremiah cohort. The timing was just right. I was looking for something new to do with my time and was interested in finding a Jewish connection in DC that wasn’t centered around happy hours or raising money.
Jeremiah hit all the right notes—training on community organizing and leadership with a focus on local issues. If you can remember back to 2009, we had just elected a president who had spent time as a community organizer. Although I had read Dreams from My Father, I didn’t really understand what community organizing was. Suddenly a program that would explain it all, provide training, introduce me to new people, and provide something Jewish to do landed in my lap. I knew not to ignore the signs.
I was hooked from the first session. The community organizing skills started to make sense when I heard stories of JUFJ’s successes. Here’s my favorite from those days, because it is the one that made everything click for me:
JUFJ and a number of other organizations were concerned about the plans for the proposed Purple Line station in Langley Park, the heart of a Central American immigrant community. We supported the Purple Line, but thought that the station could be built without knocking down a significant number of affordable apartments and small businesses in the process.
The groups decided to take an action that would demonstrate the community’s concern at a planning commission meeting. A very important note—“the community” showing concern wasn’t just composed of people whose apartments or businesses would be impacted. Rather, it was a community of Purple Line supporters from a larger geographic area.
Planning commission meetings are not usually high on people’s lists of where to spend their precious free time. Usually, attendance can be counted in single digits. On this night, the organizations turned out about 30 people, who showed up at the meeting wearing t-shirts or buttons signaling they were together. A few designated people spoke; the rest just showed their support by being there.
The commission went back to the drawing board. (And the Purple Line is still being planned…)
As a Jeremiah, I learned the value of showing up. I realized I didn’t need to be an expert in an issue before being part of a group showing its support. As long as I trust the organization behind the request, I can show up as asked. (I’ve also learned how many other people aren’t concerned about not being experts before they speak up about an issue.)
Back to the theme of how timing is everything. I’ve been helping facilitate parts of Jeremiah ever since I graduated, and a few years later became an official co-facilitator.
This fall, I was a co-facilitator without a co. Around the time I decided to leave my job, I learned that my co-facilitator was pregnant. Her due date in the early fall would be just when cohort 6 began. As a board member, I know how important Jeremiah is to JUFJ’s work. In the past few years, Jeremiah alumni have composed the majority of the core leadership teams for our issue campaigns. This really is the whole goal of the program: to take people interested in social justice and transform them into committed activists who take on JUFJ leadership roles.
I could not imagine leaving Jeremiah without either of its experienced facilitators so I committed to being in DC as needed to lead the Jeremiah bi-weekly evening sessions and fall weekend retreat.
Even though I have led Jeremiah before and was using the same curriculum, it was more work than I anticipated to lineup guest speakers, prepare agendas and meeting materials, and correspond with Fellows outside of the official sessions. When you’re used to sharing responsibility with someone else, their absence is very notable.
But I love facilitating. I love seeing Fellows learn more about the city in which they live. I love seeing Fellows discover their own power to make change. In years past, we’ve had Fellows change their careers as a result of things they learned in Jeremiah, and one even now sits on the DC City Council. Pretty great outcomes.
It was worth it to me to stay in DC and facilitate Jeremiah. Now that my co-facilitator has returned from parental leave, I’m preparing for my adventures in South America. To the cohort 6 Fellows I say, “Go forth and do good.”