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What I’m Taking with Me: Reflections from a Jeremiah Fellow

May Newsletter
May 26, 2015
Marissa Robbins

Marrisa RobbinsWhen I moved back to the Bay Area after living in New York last year, I was looking for a Jewish experience that felt meaningful to me as a person deeply committed to social justice. I had started to feel disconnected from my Jewish identity in New York, and was eager to find a community fighting systemic inequities and working toward social progress. 

At the urging of a Jeremiah alum, I applied to the Jeremiah Fellowship, eager to expand my understanding of Jewish social justice and put my values into practice. As our fellowship began in January, instances of police violence against people of color were on the forefront of our minds. Mike Brown and Eric Garner’s deaths had flooded the internet, and as I started to feel the emotional weight of this issue, I felt compelled to more deeply learn and act. The Jeremiah Fellowship community provided an incomparable space for intellectual growth and love, allowing me to learn through diverse backgrounds and perspectives. 

When it came time to choose a Bend the Arc campaign team, Criminal Justice Reform spoke to my desire to be in solidarity (as a white person) with the Black Lives Matter movement. With my cohort, we explored Jewish articulations of social justice, echoing the value of collective responsibility for healing our broken world. “Do not stand idly by the blood of your brother,” says Leviticus. I began reading Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, growing my intellectual understanding of racial oppression today, where people of color are systematically and legally locked away for nonviolent drug crimes. Through both Jeremiah workshops and in practice, I gained and strengthened my organizing and leadership skills. 

This spring, the Criminal Justice Reform team decided to focus on passing SB 124, statewide legislation sponsored by Senator Mark Leno to reduce the use of solitary confinement for minors in California prisons. The legislative process, long and arduous, allowed us to meet with local legislators to lobby for the bill. As a key representative’s constituent, I took the lead in organizing the meeting. What a powerful moment, to come together as Jews putting our values into practice, speaking to a Senator’s Deputy Director about the destructive effects of solitary confinement and the need for t’shuvah, repentance, for our incarcerated youth. Our team continues to push the bill through legislature, sending out letters, educating our community about solitary confinement, and pressuring elected officials to vote yes. 

As we come to the close of our Jeremiah experience, I’m thinking a lot about what I’m taking with me. As a cohort, we’ve committed to each other to maintain our friendship, and I know some of these relationships will remain an important part of my life for years to come. The most powerful piece, I think, is knowing and harnessing our power. With passion for justice from a Jewish lens, skills and experience to organize, and a strong support base, we truly are bending the arc toward justice. I plan to participate in that work every step of the way. 

Marissa Robbins
Bay Area Jeremiah Fellow 2015

 

The Jeremiah Fellowship gives young Jews who are committed to economic and social justice the opportunity to explore how Jewish values, culture and community can support and further their goals.

Learn more.