You Should Know… Jenna Israel

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Jenna Israel. Photo Courtesy.

Jenna Israel has quickly begun to make an impact in the local DMV area through her work with Jews United for Justice, where she serves as a D.C. community organizer. In her role, she mobilizes people to push for positive change and combat systemic issues in our society. Israel easily took to the role after graduating from Brown University in 2021 and a brief stint working as a social media director dealing with politics, and she hasn’t looked back since.

What does Jews United for Justice do locally?

Our organization is united for justice. We work in Maryland and D.C. to advance economic, racial and social justice by educating and mobilizing our communities to take action on issue-based campaigns to make real change in people’s lives. We try to build Jewish community, shift the consciousness of our community through education, develop leadership in our community and build collective power to undo systemic racism and inequality.

What is your role as a D.C. community organizer?

I work with our partners and volunteers, specifically on our housing campaigns, to create more housing security and stability and affordability in D.C. by organizing volunteers and the broader Jewish community to take action with the D.C. Council, specifically in advocacy campaigns.

What’s your background and how did you get involved with JUFJ?

I grew up in suburban New Jersey and went to Brown in college and learned a lot about organizing. There were some amazing student organizers on my campus and also some amazing organizers in Providence, where Brown is, and I was able to get involved in organizing and advocacy, both on campus and at the city and state levels in Rhode Island. It’s a small state. There’s a lot of opportunities to do good and a lot of ways to build real relationships. I had a few different organizing jobs and internships through college. And then I was an Avodah Corps Member. I was placed at JUFJ as my Avodah placement and was doing the housing work, and stayed on as a full-time staffer after my year was over to keep doing our housing work, building up our housing volunteer base and building more partnerships with our housing partners and coalitions.

How did you realize you’d be interested in the work that JUFJ does?

I think I felt up until I went to college, I had opinions about how I thought the world should be and a really strong sense of right and wrong. And then when I went to college, I learned about organizing because there was such good organizing already happening on campus, and I learned what it looks like to shift how people are thinking about things, to educate people about ideas, to mobilize people in important moments, to build relationships that you can then use to organize, how to make, direct, hard asks, and all of those good organizing skills. And I realized how important it was to me to both make systemic change and work on that level. And also, to do that by building relationships with people that felt meaningful and important, and building collective power.

What is the personal importance you find in doing this work?

I think it’s really important to me that everyone has a home. And that comes a lot from some Jewish values that I hold very dear. In particular, this one [value] around communal obligation or communal responsibility. There’s a lot in Jewish texts that surrounds how it’s incumbent on the community to provide what someone needs, whether that’s food or clothing or housing. And so, I really feel that responsibility to have community, whether that’s Jewish community or more broadly, the D.C. community, to be providing for the people who need support. And so, it’s really important to me to be organizing on housing issues, to push our city to be doing better in terms of providing housing for everyone. And I also really like organizing in the Jewish community and knowing that our community can be important in making a difference. For example, one really big thing that we work on is the budget and making sure there’s funding for important housing programs in the budget. And so, … it’s our responsibility, and it’s our city’s responsibility, to be housing people. We’re going to take our money that we’ve pulled collectively through our taxes, and we’re going to put that toward housing. That’s something that I want – my community to be responsible for making sure that everyone has housing. This is a very clear way to make that happen.

How does your Jewish identity impact you on a day-to-day basis?

I think Jewish identity and my Jewish faith and beliefs are very important to me. It’s a motivating factor and why I do the work. I think that more broadly, in terms of my career, I feel responsible for my community and feel really ingrained in it. And I want my community to show up for social justice issues, because they’re important to us as a community and important to people of the other communities that we live with. And it feels important to me for us to be showing up in big ways when we’re called to.

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