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Jeremiah Fellowship: Human Kinship and Social Justice

by Lia Mandelbaum

May 24, 2013 | 10:34 am

Graduation Day!

On May 22, I had a graduation ceremony at Beth Chayim Chadashim, to honor the completion of my nine month fellowship in the 2012-2013 Los Angeles Cohort of the Jeremiah Fellowship with Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice

I wanted to share with you the speech I had given, about my invaluable experience as a Jeremiah Fellow.  Through the fellowship, I was blessed with opportunities to work collaboratively across lines of race and faith with people and communities throughout the United States to create economic opportunity and secure basic rights.  I also gained the tools to engage in and help lead local community organizing campaigns, and take part in community service and advocacy.  If you're interested, please click {HERE} to check out the Bend the Arc website for information on applying to the fellowship.

My speech talks about how the best part of the entire experience was that I got to walk alongside these individuals:

Leader of the pack:  Lee Winkelman

Jeremiah Fellows: Allyson Schwartz, Laura Mizes, Gamal Palmer, Natalie Karic, Kimberly Duenas, Nathan Looney, Negin Yamini, Jillian Ezra, Ethan Weiss, Ryan Brooks, Farrah Azizi, Jason Lipeles, Hannah Bernstein.

                          

               Retreat at very beggining of the fellowship held at Brandeis-Bardin 

My fellow Jeremiah's ~ This is only the beginning. 

My Speech

At our very first Jeremiah meeting at the Westside JCC, as a way to get to know one another better, Lee asked each of us to write down two people that we see as role models.  When I shared about my two hero’s, Bayard Rustin, and Raoul Wallenberg, I recognized that I was getting a bit worked up, and I became very embarrassed and could feel my face turning red.   After I shared, I sunk back into my seat, and began to feel vulnerable and exposed to these unfamiliar faces.  I didn’t want them to know how much I truly cared.   

I had a really wonderful moment on my way home that night, where I was able to recognize and take comfort in knowing that the fellowship could potentially be the perfect space, where I could be open with likeminded individuals, about my intense passion for social justice.  I felt that this could be an opportunity to expose and own different parts of myself, and ultimately help me to be a more whole individual. 
 
I have had the opportunity to work closely with Jeremiah’s on our action project through Bend the Arcs major campaign to fight for domestic worker rights.  It has been a wonderful way to step back and get to know them better as activists.  Since I began the campaign, I’ve been thinking much more about the concept of home, and how it’s so important to create a sacred space where someone can feel safe, seen, respected and heard.  One of the fellows talked the other night at our retreat at Brandeis Bardin, about how his involvement in the fellowship has brought him a sense of home.   From what I gathered the other day at the retreat, I believe that we all on some level have felt that the Jeremiah fellowship has created a space that feels like home.  

While at the retreat, one of the activities was for the group to spend 2 minutes sharing their appreciation to each individual fellow.   What I heard being expressed by the fellows was “I see you.  I value you.  I believe in you.  I respect you.  And I love you.”  It is a vulnerable and powerful experience to let someone know that you see and care about them, as well as for those who are the ones receiving the affirmations.  It was wonderful to see how the fellows got tremendous joy out of being able to share their gratitude for one another. 

Just yesterday, I was at softball practice and thinking about this speech.  The weather was gloomy and cloudy, but when I looked directly above me I saw a big crack in clouds, that was in the form of a perfect circle of open space, and with the sun directly in the center and beaming bright.   I noticed something about the opening into the heavens that I had never seen before.  Along the border where the edges of the clouds met the open sky, was a rainbow wrapping itself around the union, and into a perfect ring around the sun. 

It made me think of one of my favorite quotes… author unknown

As your walls tumble down, they crack into a smile, and the illumination of self shines through.

Although what I’m sharing with you is about some very unique and lovely human bonding, it’s also a critical issue, because it is this sort human connection that our society suffers a lack of, and desperately needs.  As we have witnessed through the fellowship, such as our meeting with the kids at the Juvenile detention center, a lot of the violent acts and suffering in this world come from deep deep feelings of loneliness and sadness, and the inability to cope with their suffering in a healthy way.  So much of the world is yearning to be seen and loved, rather then locked up with the keys thrown away.

While at our retreat, during the Havdallah service, as we were putting out the flame to the braided candle in the Kiddush cup, a fellow talked about how the act was symbolic towards her desire to continue to snuff out her ways of looking at the world as a dichotomy, where people are just either good or bad, right or wrong.  To me, she learned one of the most powerful lessons to take away from the fellowship. 

If there is one thing I hope that the Jeremiahs take away from this experience, it is the commitment and bravery needed to keep your eyes, minds and hearts open.   You must strive to have the capacity to be able to live in the grey. 

It has been such a gift, to get to grow with you all. 

                     

Thank you Bend the Arc!

If you would like to watch the graduation video, click {HERE}

If you have any interest in becoming a Jeremiah Fellow:
Please visit http://bendthearc.us/jeremiah-fellowship

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Lia Mandelbaum is getting her degree in social work at California State University-Los Angeles, and has an internship at Barbour & Floyd Mental Health Services.

She is a part...

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