A child of two social workers, Jesse Rabinowitz grew up in Norfolk with a focus on social justice. This led him to his job as a social worker at Miriam’s Kitchen, a D.C.-based nonprofit focused on ending chronic homelessness.
Rabinowitz, 28, dedicates nearly all of his free time to advocacy and social justice groups. But don’t worry, he has hobbies.
What got you into social-justice work?
Both of my parents are social workers. So, growing up, we always said the four letter F-word in our house was feel. And that focus on empathy and mental health has carried with me through my life.
Homelessness has been something I cared about from a very young age. When I was little my parents would volunteer at a homeless shelter. I remember being in the kitchen at one of these shelters with my mom when I was like 4 or 5. She told me, “Go talk to people.”
It taught me from a young age that people experiencing homelessness are people and have the same needs, wants and rights as people who are housed.
Tell me a bit about your work with Miriam’s Kitchen.
My role at Miriam’s is to push our city, push our mayor, push our council toward long-term solutions to end homelessness. I manage the Way Home Campaign. We do all sorts of advocacy around D.C.’s budget, pushing for policy changes to really ensure nobody lives and dies without housing.
What are some of the solutions for homelessness?
We’re asking the mayor to invest $35.5 million as a down payment on plan to end long-term homelessness. That would fund things like permanent supportive housing. We know time and time again that the solution to homelessness is housing
How did you become involved in other social justice causes?
When I was in high school, I was very ardent AIPAC supporter. Then in college, I started to realize what I had been taught about Israel and Palestine was not reflective of what was going on the ground. So, I spent a lot of time reading different narratives, talking to people and forming my own analysis.
IfNotNow, has really provided me with a group of like-minded people who believe the [Israeli] occupation [of the West Bank] is a moral failure of the American Jewish establishment.
It’s been a really good place to think about and understand anti-Semitism and the community of people who are struggling with this new wave of anti-Semitism.
How do your Jewish values play into your social justice work?
I’ve really been taught to believe that Judaism is about helping the stranger and helping those who don’t have the privilege I do.
In college, I worked with the Jewish community doing environmental work, and I worked with the American Jewish World Service, and the Jews United for Justice. Now that I’ve left the Jewish nonprofit sphere, I’ve really started to see a lot of that work happen outside of the institutional setting and in less formal spaces.
What kind of stuff you do outside your regular job?
I like to bake. I like to play music. I’m involved in a bunch of different organizations. I’ve done interracial justice organizing and I’m active with the Metro Democratic Socialists of America, specifically in their immigration and migrant justice work.
I’m also a huge history dork and a huge civics and government dork.
What do you like to bake?
I really like to bake different kinds of bread. I started with baking with challah for Shabbat, it has now expanded into just having fun experimenting. I think it’s just really cool you can make bread out of so few ingredients.
You said you liked history. What’s your favorite period?
I like the ‘60s and ‘70s. Just like the power of the protest movement and Civil Rights Movement has been something that I take a lot of learning from. I think it’s a really important time in American history where people rose up and changed our country and changed its trajectory. n
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