The Jewish Social Justice Roundtable is a network of 26 Jewish organizations that work, each in its own way, to elevate social justice to the center of Jewish life and to advance an explicitly Jewish framework in the pursuit of social justice.
Roundtable members believe that Jewish social justice means addressing root causes of injustice from a Jewish perspective through organizing, advocacy and education. Roundtable organizations work on diverse, sometimes overlapping, issues at the local, state, national or international level.
The Roundtable builds strategic collaborations to advance social justice. By coordinating on issues and building long-term partnerships, we have a greater impact collectively than each organization has individually. As a result, social justice is an emerging and strong pillar of Jewish life in the 21st century.
The Jewish Social Justice Roundtable is an initiative of the Nathan Cummings Foundation that brings together Jewish social justice organizations to share ideas and resources and plan join action.
The Roundtable is an outgrowth of the foundation’s 2008 report, Visioning Justice and the American Jewish Community, an environmental scan that surveyed dozens of Jewish social justice leaders, activists and groups to develop a picture of the scope and effectiveness of the Jewish social justice community. The full Visioning Justice report can be read here.
Before the creation of the Roundtable, Jewish social justice activists had worked for decades in silos, within their own organizations in different cities, and were isolated from each other and from the broader social justice movement. The Visioning Justice report laid out the case and reasoning for a Roundtable. With the Cummings Foundation’s support, a group of Jewish social justice leaders gathered in 2009 to share ideas, resources and have an initial visioning conversation that led to the establishment of the Roundtable.
The first phase of the Roundtable, from 2009 to 2012, focused on deepening relationships among Jewish social justice organizations. In 2012, the Roundtable began prioritizing collective action, including issue campaigns, communities of practice and building internal structures.
Initial actions have included a coordinated national advocacy campaign for immigration reform, begun in the summer and fall of 2013, and a Communities of Practices initiative through which leaders share best practices and workshop specific challenges. The Roundtable also planned a Network Assembly to be held in November 2013 in Maryland, bringing together social justice practitioners to build relationships across organizational structures and foster collective visioning.
Today, the Roundtable supports and advances strategic collaborations that motivate the Jewish community to act on social justice issues. While social justice has always been central to Jewish teachings, organizations that are part of the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable are working to put it high on the agenda of contemporary Jewish life.
The 26 member organizations of the Roundtable are:
Ameinu (1905, reorganized 2004) The successor to the Labor Zionist Alliance, the American affiliate of the World Labor Zionist Movement-Poale Zion, which is a member-organization of the World Zionist Organization and an associated organization of the Socialist International. Organized today as a “national, multi-generational community of progressive Jews in North America,” which “mobilizes those Jews who seek opportunities to foster social and economic justice both in Israel and in North America.”
American Jewish World Service (1985) International development organization, funds and advocates for grassroots initiatives in developing world, educates Jewish community on international development needs, engages Jewish opinion leaders with activists in Asia, Africa and the Americas.
Avodah: The Jewish Service Corps (1998) National service organization, recruits activists for year-long community organizing programs combining community service with shared Jewish living and learning.
Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice (2011) National Jewish social justice organization, organizes immigrants and workers rights campaigns, conducts advocacy, funding, training. Combines:
- Jewish Funds for Justice (1984) National social justice funding initiative.
- Shefa Fund (1988) Philadelphia-based national social justice philanthropic alliance.
- Progressive Jewish Alliance (1999) California community organizing and social justice network, formed by former members of Los Angeles chapter, American Jewish Congress.
Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) (1889) National professional association of Reform rabbis.
Hazon (1999) National organization that promotes sustainability efforts and Community Supported Agriculture, trains environmental leadership.
HIAS (1881) Formerly Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, operates nationwide and internationally in 14 countries to resettle immigrants, protect displaced persons, provide aid and legal services to refugees in Africa and Latin America.
Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action (JALSA) (2001) Local Boston-area social justice organization, formed by former board members of American Jewish Congress to fight for civil rights, constitutional liberties, social and economic justice, create and staff coalitions for social change.
Jewish Community Action (1995) Local Minneapolis-St. Paul area activist community, organizes Jewish Minnesotans for social change.
Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Greater Boston (1944) Local public policy arm of Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston.
Jewish Council for Public Affairs (1944) Formerly National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council, coordinates the advocacy and public policy work of 123 local Jewish community relations councils and committees and 13 national Jewish organizations engaged in multi-issue policy and advocacy.
Jewish Council on Urban Affairs (1964) Local Chicago-area activist community that combats poverty, racism and anti-Semitism, based on Jewish values, in partnership with diverse communities.
Jews for Racial & Economic Justice (JFREJ) (1990) Local New York City activist community uniting Jews and Jewish institutions to combat racial and ethnic tension and economic disparity.
Jews United for Justice (2004) Local Washington D.C.-area activist community to weave together Judaism and social justice.
JOIN for Justice: Jewish Organizing Institute and Network (1998) Formerly Jewish Organizing Initiative, trains Jewish community organizers for social justice.
Keshet (1996) National grassroots organization to support full equality and inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Jews in Jewish life.
Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger (1985) National organization devoted to raising Jewish awareness of hunger, mobilizing Jewish support for anti-hunger efforts and advocating for progressive policy change to combat hunger.
National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) (1893) National grassroots women’s volunteer activist organization for social service and social change.
New Israel Fund (1979) Supports Israeli initiatives for social justice, civil liberties, women’s rights, minority rights, religious freedom.
The Rabbinical Assembly (1901) National professional association of Conservative rabbis.
Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (RRC) (1968) Rabbinical seminary and primary organizational center of Jewish Reconstructionist movement.
Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (1961) Political and legislative outreach arm of Reform Judaism, sponsored jointly by CCAR and URJ.
Repair the World (2012) National philanthropic partnership mobilizing Jews to volunteer for service projects in communities.
Truah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights (2002) Formerly Rabbis for Human Rights-North America, reconstituted in 2013 as an independent organization of rabbis pursuing human rights in Israel, United States and Canada.
Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) (1873) formerly Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the national federation of Reform synagogues.
The Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring (1900) National social-justice activist organization, organizes learning centers for secular Jewish education, culture and celebration, organizes community action on peace, environment, labor rights.
Types of organizations
The Roundtable makes no distinction among its members, but an outside observer might point to three general types of organizations:
Veteran national organizations that predate the cultural and social upheavals of the 1960s: Ameinu, CCAR, HIAS, Jewish Council for Public Affairs, National Council of Jewish Women, Rabbinical Assembly, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, Religious Action Center, URJ, Workmen’s Circle.
Next-generation national organizations formed after 1975: American Jewish World Service, Avodah, Bend The Arc, Hazon, JOIN, Keshet, Mazon, New Israel Fund, Repair the World, T’ruah, Uri L’Tzedek.
Next-general local organizing initiatives: JALSA, Jewish Community Action, Jewish Council on Urban Affairs (JCUA), Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, Jews United For Justice. (Note: JCUA was founded in 1964 but is similar to other next-gen initiatives; it emerged during the 1960s rather than in the decade’s aftermath, but is as much a product of the spirit of the 1960s and the others.)
Boston JCRC is in a separate category: it belongs in the category of old-line, pre-1960s organizations, although it is local rather than national. In fact it is one of the 123 local Jewish councils that emerged before and after World War II, mostly as public policy arms of local Jewish federations, whose national coordinating body is the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. Boston JCRC is unique among the local councils in defining itself explicitly as a social justice organization.
Habonim-Dror North America