The 2023-2024 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant Fellowship Focuses on Racial Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

January 5, 2023Yolanda Savage-Narva and Jacob Greenblatt

For more than six decades, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism has worked to educate, inspire, and mobilize the Reform Jewish Movement to advocate for social justice both within our Jewish community and outside of it. Key to that work are the emerging leaders of the Eisendrath Legislative Assistant Fellowship, a year-long fellowship for recent college graduates and individuals with equivalent academic and/or professional experience who care deeply about Judaism, social justice, and public policy.

Each legislative assistant takes on a portfolio of policy issues and is responsible for monitoring legislation, representing Reform Movement institutions on Capitol Hill and in coalitions, and acting as the voice of the Reform Movement's nearly 850 congregations, 2,000 rabbis, and more than 1.8 million Reform Jews. Legislative assistants also train and empower the next generation of Reform Movement leaders through L'Taken Social Justice Seminars, guide our communications, assist with community organizing in our nine state-based affiliates, and partner with the Commission on Social Action to develop policy resolutions that guide our work.

The LAs are at the heart of every aspect of the Reform Movement's social justice work, and we recognize the program's power to introduce LAs to influential leaders, communities, and networks, setting them on a path for future success. Throughout the Reform Movement, the LAs are known as a talented and innovative cohort, often seen as Jewish communities' future lay and institutional leaders. The range of experiences and relationships formed during the fellowship pave the way for graduate school and future careers in Jewish professional life, politics, advocacy, law, and many other fields.

But for many years, the Eisendrath Legislative Assistant Fellowship has not fully reflected the diversity of the Movement it represents. In 2015, the URJ began its focus on racial equity, diversity, and inclusion through the efforts of Audacious Hospitality - ongoing work to address oppression both internally and externally and to better embrace our Movement's diversity. This work is part of a larger, continuous effort to identify and examine our practices, policies, budget, and daily actions through the lens of racial equity, diversity, and inclusion (REDI).

In early 2021, recognizing that one of our primary goals was to recruit and sustain a diverse staff, we were proud to announce a two-year partnership with the Jews of Color Initiative (JOCI), which is dedicated to the professional and communal advancement of Jews of Color. Through this partnership, we were able to better prioritize equitable recruitment practices and were proud to have hired our first two Legislative Assistants of Color for the 2021-2023 legislative assistant cohort. The partnership with JOCI also inspired us to provide culturally responsive professional development, mentorship from Leaders of Color, and an additional and a more equitable cost-of-living stipend. Recognizing that these fellows and other Employees of Color work in a primarily white-dominated organization, we also now require REDI training for managers and other staff to help create a safer environment and learn how to affirm a wide range of identities, including Employees of Color. Trainings occur at all levels of our organizations (including the executive team, management, camps, and staff from all departments) and are mandatory during the first three months of employment for new staff. Trainings focus on white privilege, fragility, and the common microaggressions and racism that Jews of Color experience in white-dominated spaces. We recognize the importance of creating a fellowship experience that is equitable and affirming so that our Movement's diverse voices and contributions can be better recognized and honored, and we are grateful to the Jews of Color Initiative for their generous financial support over the past two years.

The RAC's Eisendrath Legislative Assistants have been integral to the Reform Movement's social justice work through creating impactful programs, crafting the policies that are the foundation of our work, and lobbying policymakers. In just the past two years, LAs have led our work on the Reform Movement's 2021 Racial Justice Campaign and Every Voice, Every Vote: The Reform Movement's 2022 Civic Engagement Campaign. The LAs steer our advocacy on key issues of the day, including reproductive health and rights, LGBTQ+ equality, immigration justice, economic justice and labor, disability rights, hate crimes, and much more. In particular, our Jews of Color legislative assistants have played key leadership roles in our work on environmental justice, voting rights and democracy reform, reparations, international religious freedom, Israel and antisemitism, criminal justice reform, and gun violence prevention - stepping up to lead interfaith coalitions, organize lobbying activities, and facilitate impactful educational programs.

Looking ahead to the future of the legislative assistant program, we are committed to investing in and engaging with applicants from underrepresented and marginalized backgrounds. Our new application for the 2023-2024 cohort includes several changes designed to improve equity and reduce barriers for applicants who may not be affiliated with the Reform Movement or other Jewish institutions, and who have historically been made invisible or experienced discrimination in organized Jewish spaces. We are also pleased to announce a salary increase to $42,000, which reflects an increased cost of living and more closely aligns with peer organizations.

As we strive to build a world of justice, compassion, wholeness, joy, and equity, it is vital to ensure that for the next sixty years and beyond, the legislative assistant program fully represents the broad and essential diversity of our Reform Movement and the entire Jewish community.

Applications for the 2023-2024 class of Eisendrath Legislative Assistants are open through February 21, 2023. Click here to learn more and apply.

Related Posts

Jewish Social Justice as a Jew of Color Legislative Assistant

November 29, 2021
I have always felt a strong sense of family when in Jewish spaces. Yet, my life experience has taught me that it is through the encounters with people of different backgrounds who have unique stories that the direction we take is shaped. This idea has helped me to no longer ask about what I deserve in life, but rather how I can use my privilege to give back to others. The same drive is what led me to apply to the Eisendrath Legislative Assistant Fellowship at the Religious Action Center - a unique opportunity to make a difference not many people believe is possible.