GLOE and Jews United for Justice are proud to present
Justice, Justice Shall You Pursue:
A History of New Jewish Agenda
with author Ezra Berkley Nepon
Monday, June 25 - 7:00 pm
1529 16th St NW - Library
FREE - RSVP Requested
Light refreshments served
“A Jewish voice among
progressives and a progressive voice among Jews”
Join author Ezra Nepon for a reading and discussion of this people's history of Progressive Jewish activism in the 1980s.
Jewish Agenda was a national, multi-issue organization that practiced
participatory grassroots democracy with over 45 local chapters and 5,000
members, organizing for peace and justice on local and global issues. (Read more about NJA below.)
We are thrilled to have former NJA leaders Rabbi Gerry Serotta and Reena Bernards joining the discussion.
Books and the new Celebrate People's History Poster for NJA, created in
collaboration with justseeds.org, will be
available for sale. More info at newjewishagenda.net.
(from author Ezra Berkley Nepon, on newjewishagenda.net)
New Jewish Agenda (NJA) was a national, multi-issue
membership organization active between 1980 and 1992 and made up of
about 45 local chapters. NJA’s slogan was “a Jewish voice among
progressives and a progressive voice among Jews.” In this site, I
interpret NJA’s demonstrated commitment to participatory (grassroots)
democracy and civil rights for all people, especially including those
marginalized within the mainstream Jewish community, as demonstrations
of their definition of “progressive.” NJA was most controversial for its
stances on the rights of Palestinians, and lesbian and gay Jews, but
their values of inclusion can be seen in their organizational structure
as well as their varied choices of political campaigns.
New Jewish Agenda (sometimes called “Agenda”) maintained five primary campaigns through National Taskforces on Middle East Peace, Worldwide Nuclear Disarmament, Economic and Social Justice, Peace in Central America, and Jewish Feminism.
Each taskforce coordinated work at the local and national level using
organizing methods including national speaking tours, publications,
newsletters, Internal Discussion Bulletins (NJA’s strategy for promoting
dialogue about heated issues), national taskforce gatherings, and
conferences. In a time before email, NJA taskforce members communicated
through phone trees and hand-written letters, through mimeographed and
photocopied mailings, and through face-to-face convening. Within many of
the taskforces, and occasionally outside of the taskforces’ wide
subject areas, NJA members often established more focused Working
Groups, such as the AIDS Working Group within the Feminist Taskforce.
New Jewish Agenda also used specifically Jewish cultural symbols and
gatherings in their organizing, a common strategy in our current
political era. For example, NJA wrote and revised Jewish holy days and
prayers to reflect Feminist, secular, and other non-traditional Jewish
communities. They also used Jewish ritual in protest — for example, the Disarmament
taskforce built a sukkah across the street from the White House. In
1984, New Jewish Agenda published a book with three Freedom Seders: The Rainbow Seder by Arthur Waskow focused on environmental and nuclear disarmament concerns, the Seder of the Children of Abraham
by the Philadelphia NJA chapter used the Haggadah to shape a communal
voice calling for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and the Haggadah of Liberation written by the Seattle NJA Chapter/Kadima.
Though NJA members identified their activism as explicitly Jewish,
they were met with mixed and often critical response from the larger
Jewish community. Perhaps the most extreme example of this critical
response was the November 1992 excommunication of NJA members
performed by three Tewksbury, MA rabbis. A more mainstream example of
NJA’s marginalization is the fact that NJA was not listed in the
American Jewish Committee’s American Jewish Yearbook until 1986.