By Ella Gorodetzky
Elianna Cooper, 24, grew up in Melbourne, Fla., in a Conservative family. After studying at Florida State University, Cooper began food justice work and community organizing in Tallahassee.
She participated in Avodah’s Jewish Service Corps, where she was placed as a corps member at Jews United for Justice (JUFJ). Cooper is now JUFJ’s Maryland community organizer, where she works to raise awareness and take action on issues statewide.
What does your job as Maryland community organizer entail?
I work on issues that relate to transforming public safety, immigrant justice and court and prison reform. I work with Jewish community members across Maryland to help connect them to social justice, why these issues matter and help them find ways to take action.
What is one project you’ve worked on with JUFJ that you enjoyed?
This past year JUFJ, working with the Time to Care Coalition, helped pass paid family medical leave legislation in Maryland, which means that Marylanders will now have the ability to take paid time off to care for themselves or for others. Throughout that process, I really enjoyed working with different folks from different Jewish communities across Maryland on writing testimony for the Maryland General Assembly. So helping people think about why PFML would matter to them, what it would mean for their lives in the future, how it could have helped them in the past, and helping them craft and write those stories to present to state legislators in Maryland.
How did you get into this work?
My Jewish upbringing had a focus on justice and social justice and I started doing community organizing work in Tallahassee in college around a lot of food justice work and I think that brought me into both thinking about justice from a Jewish perspective and community organizing.
What is your Jewish background?
Melbourne has a pretty small Jewish community on the east coast of Florida. I grew up belonging to a Conservative synagogue, I went to Sunday school, had a b’nai mitzvah with my twin brother, and then worked at the Sunday school through high school.
Why did you move from Florida?
And after spending my entire life in Florida, I felt really ready to experience a different place in the United States and to be in a little bit of a bigger city, and I was doing Avodah’s Jewish Service Corps, which brought me to D.C.
What did you do at Avodah’s Jewish Service Corps?
The way the Jewish Service Corps program is structured is that there are three core components. There’s one piece that’s communal living, so I was living in Washington, D.C., with about 12 other young Jewish professionals in sort of an intentional Jewish community.There’s one part that’s programming through Avodah that’s about thinking more deeply about Judaism and Jewishness in a lot of different ways. And then the last part of the program is each corps member is placed at a nonprofit where you work throughout the year, so my placement was at Jews United for Justice. So that’s where I was working, first as a corps member and now as a full time staff member.
What is something else that you’re passionate about?
I really liked cooking. During the pandemic especially, I started baking a lot more and that’s a hobby that I really enjoy.
What is your favorite thing to bake?
There’s a really great recipe for brown butter chocolate chip cookies that I think it’s really delicious. It has toffee in it, so that’s probably my go-to crowd pleaser.