Becca Leviss, 25, could end up at rabbinical school. But right now, the Tufts University graduate is happy working on the Partnerships Team at Protect Democracy, an organization dedicated to preserving the health of American democracy. She sees this as the perfect place to do actionable work in an important movement while being in an environment where she can ask questions and grow.
What is Protect Democracy?
It’s a cross-ideological nonprofit devoted exclusively toward preventing American democracy from declining into authoritarianism. On the partnerships team, I oversee our major philanthropic institutional partnerships. I work with major foundations in the democracy space who are interested in doing the hard work of making sure democracy endures and is better than it was.
Why do you think this work is important?
I think history, and what’s going on across the globe, has told us that democracy is declining. Almost every major academic institution that does research internationally on the markers of democracy have noted democratic decline. After 2016, a group of people got together and said there’s something going on around the U.S., what’s going on is different than politics as normal. This is not Republicans versus Democrats, but it’s really bucking the norms of our institutions.
Can you speak a little more about your role?
My day-to-day work is sharing with major institutional funders about the work that Protect Democracy is doing and also the work that the movement is doing. A lot of my work is speaking with folks who care deeply about this work, who are experts and practitioners in the field, learning from them and sharing information and resources to make sure all of us working toward this greater mission are best prepared to make an impact.
When did you realize this was of interest to you?
I grew up raised by two very politically active parents who instilled this idea in me that we are in the world to do good. Political activism and Judaism were also really closely intertwined. I always really cared about the role of young people in making a positive change in their communities. In undergrad, I studied sociology and religion and was interested in how various institutions create both opportunities and obstacles to civic engagement. Protect Democracy is sort of the perfect intersection of the issues that I care about, the protection of our democratic institutions, but also the ways of making change that I want to see and explore and play a role in.
How do these ideals intersect with your Judaism?
The Jewish values of tikkun olam [repairing the world] and B’tzelem Elohim [in the image of God], the ideas that we are here in the present to make the world a better place and that is sacred work and that is Jewish work. I love that idea. I also think what I love most about being Jewish is we wrestle with God. We ask tough questions. Judaism doesn’t give me all the answers but it provides me with a really good framework to ask questions. If I am lucky enough to surround myself with people who are really smart and thoughtful, I can get really good answers to those questions.
Outside of work, how do you see yourself as a Jew?
I think my Judaism takes a couple different threads. I think one of them is very intellectual. I love biblical history and theology, but also modern history. I’m taking this course right now at Hebrew College about Judaism and Whiteness and figuring out the role of Jews in the civil rights movement and how American Jews really struggle with race and ethnoreligion and the complexities around that. In some ways it’s intellectual and in some ways it’s spiritual. I love the little rituals like lighting the candles every Friday and kissing the mezuzah when I enter and leave the apartment. Judaism is also very family based for me.
What’s in the future for you?
The short answer is I don’t know. I love my job, this organization and the movement that I’m a part of. I’m excited to get up every day and do this work. At the end of the day, I care about helping and empowering others and creating communities that are intentional and kind and impactful and empowering others to be able to do that themselves.
Right now, that path has taken me to Protect Democracy. I don’t know where it’s going to take me next. It might take me deeper into the philanthropic sector, it might take me to rabbinical school and Jewish community leadership. I’m staying open to saying yes and continuing doing work where I can surround myself with people I love and causes I care about.