Category Archives: New York

Introducing the AVODAH Fellows

We’re excited to introduce our first-ever cohort of the AVODAH Fellowship, a leadership development and community-building program for early career Jewish professionals working to alleviate poverty in the United States. The newest members of the AVODAH network come from a diverse range of highly respected organizations, including City Harvest, Planned Parenthood, the Innocence Project, and Bend the Arc.

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A Day on the Job: Exposure Igniting Passion

By Yonah Lieberman

yonahMy first few days as a tenant organizer were a blur. Near the end of my first day I followed another organizer into the basement of a building through a door she had (literally) kicked in. She called out into the darkness to see if there were any drug dealers or users in the space — there weren’t — before turning on her phone’s flashlight so we could see the horrendous shape it was in. What should have been a place for tenants to store things was a maze of trash and debris that had been neglected nearly past the point of no return.

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Assimilation Helps us to Grow: Thanksgivukkah, Menurkeys, and Our Expanding Community

By Jenn Pollan

This was adapted from a speech that Jenn recently gave at an AVODAH NYC Hanukkah party. 

jenn pollanIn case you missed the articles on Buzzfeed and the pictures of “Menurkeys” that flooded Instagram and Twitter this year, Thanksgiving and Hanukkah coincided and a new hybrid holiday, “Thanksgivukkah,” was born. This has not happened since 1888 and will not happen again for another 76,000 years. Continue reading

Is God Powerless? Hanukkah and God’s Aspirations for Justice

By Jonathan Huberman

The following was adapted from a D’var Torah that Jonathan taught at a recent AVODAH NYC Hanukkah party. 


While the miracle of the menorah burning for eight days today receives the greatest attention during Hanukkah, the holiday celebrates the victory of Judah the Maccabee and his army over their Greek imperialist rulers. The Greeks took control of the ancient land of Israel and forced the inhabitants of the land to worship Greek gods.  They defiled the ancient sanctuary in Jerusalem and transformed it into a pagan temple. With brutal punishments, they outlawed studying, worshipping, and practicing the Jewish religion. Continue reading

Amy Poehler, Activism, and Leadership

(Cross-posted from the RAC Blog.)

As if I needed another reason to love Amy Poehler. But here she is, spotlighting the intersection of activism and relationship-building, a topic very dear to my heart. Poehler was honored recently for her work with the Worldwide Orphans Foundation and, among other things, spoke about the power of “meeting like-minded people who become your travelers in life.” She goes on to express her realization that “I want to be around people who do things. I don’t want to be around people any more who judge, or talk, or talk about what people do. I want to be around people who dream and support and do things.” I consider myself very lucky to spend a great deal of time around exactly these fellow travelers, and especially to be a part of building those communities through my work with AVODAH’s service corps and our new AVODAH Fellowship, starting this year in NYC.

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Guess what? Brooklyn is gentrifying!

By Elise Goldin

This post originally appeared on The SurRealEstate here.

This might come as a shock to you but Brooklyn is gentrifying. There. I said it. Can I bring you a glass of water, or maybe a local organic lemonade-ice tea from the corner “petit gourmand?” Cool your face with one of Brooklyn’s top 10 frozen desserts? Relax with a copy of Brooklyn Magazine, filled with beautiful white hipsters.  Where are all the people of color you ask?  Not in Brooklyn, apparently.

A recent study based on race by zip code revealed that Brooklyn has the largest increase of white people in the country.  Neighborhoods in Brooklyn that have seen the greatest influx have been (in order) Clinton Hill, E. Williamsburg, Prospect Heights, and Bushwick.  Surprised? Didn’t think so.  This study determined 25 zip codes nationwide with the greatest influx of white people, and no other place has more than one zip code in the same state.  Four zip codes are in in the city of Brooklyn, NY.

Gentrification is about access to affordable housing, how resources are distributed in a neighborhood, and levels of safety and comfort for all residents. My work at the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board around predatory equity directly plays into gentrification– when a neighborhood is seen as lucrative on the real-estate market, predatory equity (and consequently gentrification) occurs with greater frequency, displacing residents. This process is gentrification at its worse.

For many young, white transplants (like myself), there is a lot of guilt associated with living in Brooklyn.  As I prepare to leave the AVODAH bayit (house) and embark on that dreaded journey apartment hunting, I have a lot of questions.  How can I be committed to housing justice while simultaneously needing to live somewhere with cheap rents?  What determines gentrification– Is it simply racial?  Is it measured by income level?  How can it be avoided, and how can we move beyond guilt and anger?

An exciting new documentary called “My Brooklyn” addresses these complex questions through interviews of residents, city government, development companies, and community activists.  The documentary is told through the eyes of a white gentrifier, Kelly Anderson, who follows the the politics behind  luxury condo development in her neighborhood and the controversial redevelopment of Downtown Brooklyn, particularly Fulton Mall.

Filmmakers Kelly Anderson and Allison Lirish Dean wrote about My Brooklyn for the NYTimes’ Fort Greene/ Clinton Hill Local.  Here is an insightful exert:

Our interviews with locals from Fort Greene to Bedford-Stuyvesant brought out similarly polarized responses, but we also found that many newcomers felt bad about being gentrifiers and felt powerless to do anything about it. Could people stop gentrification just by not moving somewhere? The conversation seemed stuck, unable to get at real solutions.

Missing from these debates was a larger sense of how gentrification really happens, and what’s truly behind it. We made “My Brooklyn” to move beyond the tired focus on individual choice and blame that we kept running into, and to help steer the conversation in a more productive direction. We also wanted to offer people a concrete sense of what they can do to make development more equitable…

All of this new development might have been okay if the rezoning had also, for example, fulfilled the public need for truly affordable housing. A more sensitive approach would have also preserved the mall’s thriving small business community and its unique, homegrown culture. Instead, it is being slowly killed off.

Interested in learning more about gentrification in Brooklyn? Connect with the great work of Families United for Racial and Economic Justice (FUREE).  FUREE is a women of color led organization fighting gentrification and for racial justice in Brooklyn!  Stay informed and continue the conversation!

Elise GoldinElise Goldin is from Evanston, IL and attended Macalester College. As a New York AVODAH Corps member, she is a Tenant Organizer at the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board, which supports self-help housing and community building in low-income neighborhoods by training, organizing, developing, and assisting resident-controlled limited-equity housing co-operatives.

A Call to Action: Young Jews Building Justice-Focused Jewish Communities

By: Rachie Lewis

This is adapted from a call to action Rachie gave at the JOIN Jewish Organizing Summit in NYC on April 30th conveying that young Jews have an important role to play in reinvigorating Jewish community and making justice and organizing work central pieces of it.


AVODAH alumni along with Marilyn Sneiderman and Cantor/Rabbi Angela Buchdahl at the JOIN for Justice Summit.

Over the past few years, I have had the privilege of participating in AVODAH in New Orleans and in the Jewish Organizing Fellowship in Boston. Both of these experiences have allowed me to synthesize my commitment to Jewish tradition and justice work, connect to a community of like-minded people and be taken seriously by the surrounding mainstream Jewish communities.

The JOIN Jewish Organizing Summit, that occurred April 29th-30th in NYC, offered an opportunity to weave together these worlds and think together about what young Jews committed to these things might be able to accomplish together. Together, we participated in a young adults workshop where we created an advisory council to help create more residential social-justice-focused, young, Jewish collectives. Sound familiar AVODAH alumni? This is a great opportunity to think about how to let the AVODAH experience live on beyond the year!

We also decided to continue a conversation about how to welcome various groups of young Jews who have traditionally felt alienated from the mainstream community. I have found that  this is an issue near and dear to many AVODAhniks hearts, due to the experience of feeling alienated by the established Jewish community in the past on the grounds of patrilinial descent, Israel/Palestine politics, queer identity etc. Yet many of us have been lucky enough to experience Jewish community that, in some way, has affirmed these aspects of ourselves and lives, thanks to AVODAH.

My AVODAH/JOI(N) experiences have taught me that in order for this vision of justice-focused Jewish communities to be lived out, a vision that most attendees of the summit came to flesh out, we all need to work together – young adults, rabbis and members of the mainstream Jewish community.

We young adults need the established Jewish community’s resources and built up power. The established Jewish community needs the creative thinking, critical eyes and enthusiastic energy of young Jews. And we young Jews need each other to build power and develop a stronger voice within the mainstream.

And as AVODAH alumni, it seems that we have a crucial role to play within this process. As young Jews committed to justice and connected to larger Jewish institutions, we have the potential to create meaningful bridges between different generations, politics and mentalities; we have the potential to help clarify a new shared language and objective within the community about our own power and the injustices that plague our communities, our cities and our world.

We, and I believe we are one we, make up a diverse community that does not exist within a vacuum, but reflects the evolution of time that forces new faces and new strategies to emerge while remembering and sustaining those of old. We are pulling a millennia old thread and must include the voices of every Jew in thinking about the broader community we are building and the shared language of justice we are trying to insert within it.

Do you think that seemingly disparate Jewish groups can create a shared language of justice and harness collective power? And if so, what role can AVODAH alumni play in this process?

Rachie Lewis participated in AVODAH’s year-long program in New Orleans in 2009-2010. She then spent a year studying Jewish traditional text at Yeshivat Hadar in New York City. She is currently living in Boston, MA, after having participated in the Jewish Organizing Initiative and working as a community organizer for the Massachusetts Senior Action Council.