Jody Rabhan: A Champion of Women’s and Social Justice Advocacy

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Jody Rabhan has been serving women, children and families through a Jewish lens since 1994, when she first got a job with the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), a grassroots organization that advocates for the betterment of those important segments of our society. Rabhan has helped oversee groundbreaking events and significant pieces of legislation throughout her tenure as Chief Policy Officer for NCJW and hopes that the group can continue playing a critical role in shaping relevant and vital policies in the future.

What are your responsibilities as Chief Policy Officer for NCJW?

I oversee NCJW’s advocacy work, our federal and state work, as well as our communications and development. No two days look alike … Generally speaking, we really help guide NCJW’s policy work, so the team and I represent our network of NCJW advocates around the country to Capitol Hill, government agencies and the administration. We represent the interests of the organization and our mission to those bodies, and we have three priority areas, and they include: reproductive health rights and justice; fair, independent, qualified and diverse federal judiciary; and economic justice for women and families. Things like affordable, accessible childcare, paid sick and safe leaves, an increase in minimum wage and minimum tipped wage. We help guide the work around the country in conjunction with our state policy advocates. They are almost like our state lobbyists, helping to drive the work of our national organization in the field and we really work in tandem with them as they navigate their state legislatures.

How’d you become involved with NCJW?

I was in graduate school. I did a dual master’s program in social work and Jewish studies in Baltimore, at a school called the Baltimore Institute for Jewish communal service … We were required to have an internship for both years and my second year was with NCJW. I was there during my second full year of graduate school, and then when a job opened up about a year after I left grad school, I jumped at the opportunity to interview and I got the position.

Can you tell me about yourself outside of work?

Outside of work, I live in Bethesda, Maryland, with my husband and our cat. And we have two college-aged boys. We’re proud members of Congregation Beth El in Bethesda, and I’m a fitness enthusiast. I also love to travel.

What are some professional accomplishments you’re particularly proud of?

I feel like I have the best job in the world. When things are happening in the world, I generally get to roll up my shirt sleeves and help lead the organization, help engage our folks and really make a difference for women, children and families. I don’t do any of the work alone. I really want to stress that, but I have been so privileged to lead our work on judicial nominations, so helping to confirm the first black female justice, Ketanji Brown Jackson, was definitely a highlight, helping to write and pass the first Violence Against Women Act with then Senator Joe Biden, and then all of the subsequent reauthorizations of that bill. Also, the Hate Crimes Prevention Act was another career highlight, all of it was done with partners and of course with our members advocating with their lawmakers, but it was work I was really privileged to help ensure happen.

What is the personal importance to you of being able to work for the benefit of Jewish women and various marginalized groups in society?

I think what is incredible is the organization advocates on behalf of all women, children and families, not just Jewish. And it really centers on the people most impacted. We do this work through a Jewish lens, bringing in our Jewish values, but we’re nondenominational. So, we use our Jewish values to talk about the issues, to get people engaged and really see how it resonates. At a time when religion is being so weaponized by, I would say, ultra-conservative members of Congress and even some judges, it is really gratifying to have language to counteract that and to counterbalance that. People of faith care about abortion access, for example, and people of faith care about an increase in minimum wage and people of faith care about their LGBTQ family members and friends. It’s incredibly gratifying to be able to have that language and use that messaging and lift up the majority of people of faith in this country who really are on the right side of history when it comes to all of these important issues.

What are you hoping to accomplish in the future with NCJW?

We [NCJW] are 130 years old and we have been involved in the passage of every piece of major civil rights legislation and we have a really great history to lean into as we look to the future. So really looking forward to getting more folks engaged in elections. We know the importance of elections. And there’s always an election some year, somewhere, as well as the federal judiciary. That is a place where judges sit for lifetime appointments. So being able to have an impact on the courts, where these folks are confirmed to sit for 40-50 years is important. We know every issue goes through the federal courts at some point, so being able to help make an impact for my children and their children is something I’m really looking forward to.

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