Jewish Social Justice as a Jew of Color Legislative Assistant

November 29, 2021Israel Harris

Coming from a background in the arts, I live to express my personal story and beliefs throughout every area of my life. Choreographing movement for bodies in a theater means understanding how to successfully let both performers and audience members tune into your message. Dancing means vulnerably sharing your perspective to elicit not only emotion, but action. It is through these personable relationships that my artistic process has helped me understand how to connect mind and body and connect people with each other.

Along with dance, Judaism is a large part of my identity. 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. I am unbelievably grateful to have established communal ties both within my Jewish community and beyond, whether connecting with Communities of Color, other faith-oriented people, or meeting like-minded performance artists and dancers. And I hope my perspective as a Hispanic, Latinx Jew of Color has opened the eyes of others as well. This past year has taught me what it means to carry my creative explorations, values, and way of life into areas I didn't realize were possible.

How many times have you heard people ask, "What difference can one person make?" Or "My vote doesn't matter." Psychology defines this thought process as diffused responsibility. But making the world better even for a single person means participating in our communal responsibility to care for others in this world: "Love thy neighbor as thyself" (Leviticus 19:18). While social advocacy is great, being an advocate for social justice increases both your intention and impact. The former describes an action one can participate in. The latter refers to a larger commitment to this world which defines self-interest as inherently connected to the well-being of others. An advocate no longer lives solely for their own benefit. 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.

As a young professional, this position helps inform me about ways to transform my ideas, beliefs, and Jewish practices into action. Since my fellowship began in August, I've already had the opportunity to dive straight into the Reform Movement's Racial Justice Campaign and spearhead the RAC's Freedom to Vote Call-In Week in support of expanding voting rights, helping to drive more than 2,000 calls to the Senate and White House in the span of four days. And after participating in coalition meetings with our partners like the Declaration for American Democracy and League of Women Voters, I helped to strategize and include RAC staff members in freedom-to-vote protests outside of the White House, which includes communicating the Reform Movement's stance on filibuster reform as a key, faith-based, Jewish perspective to help make democracy real for everyone.

Additionally, my legislative portfolio includes racial justice and criminal justice reform which means that I represent the Reform Movement in coalitions like The Reparatory Justice Faith Table. I am proud to represent the Reform Movement's support for developing reparations proposals to remedy the continued impacts of enslavement and systemic racism in the U.S. at community gatherings. In support of this, I am also helping to create a monthly, educational series encouraging greater knowledge and support to establish a commission to study and develop Reparations for Black Americans through the passage of H.R. 40. And as I work for racial justice in the space of criminal justice reform, this requires me to meet with various Congressional offices in support of these issues. I will continue to bring our Jewish perspective and a racial justice lens throughout all the work the RAC does.

I've done all of this before getting to participate in one of the major highlights of the LA Fellowship - the Bernard and Audre Rapoport L'Taken Social Justice Seminars! With previous experience as an educator, I am privileged with the opportunity to lead thousands of Reform Jewish youth in exploring what it means to use our Jewish perspectives and advocate for social justice. I am perhaps most excited to expand their perspectives to the amount of power they truly have, even if most are not yet old enough to vote.

There are many experiences I will take with me from my time as a LA at the RAC. The ability to be the Person of Color who I never saw in leadership positions when I was growing up. Taking my place as a Jew of Color to uplift our voices. The growth of knowledge in how our political system works and developing new paths for my generation and the next to improve the shortcomings of those that came before us. And probably one of the most important things, the ability to say that my fellow LAs and I will forever be tied to our RAC community, our RAC family.

The RAC helped set the stage for a new way of life that is larger than myself, and I am energized to take my position as an opportunity to promote true change.

The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism's Eisendrath Legislative Assistant Program is a year-long fellowship for people interested in Judaism, social justice, and policy. LAs are at the heart of every aspect of the Reform Movement's social justice work. Learn more and apply now.

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