Jodie Rubenstein’s road to J Street, the self-described pro-peace, pro-Israel lobbying group, started in the Jewish state while she was staffing a Birthright Israel trip in 2013. She was with a group on a kibbutz in the north of the country when a man began explaining why he made aliyah despite the security situation. The man said, “Screw the Arabs,” while overlooking Syria and Lebanon.
“There was such negativity coming from both sides on this issue,” said Rubenstein, a 28-year-old Alexandria native who is currently J Street’s regional director for the Capital Region and the South.
After graduating from Wesleyan University with a B.A. in psychology in 2009, spending a summer providing sexual health education to indigenous women and girls in Peru and receiving a master’s degree in social work from Columbia University in 2011, Rubenstein spent five months living in South Tel Aviv and working at the African Refugee Development Center, where she helped women from Eritrea and Sudan.
Upon returning from Israel in 2012, Rubenstein worked as a children’s therapist for witnesses and survivors of domestic violence at Sanctuaries for Families in Brooklyn, N.Y. She also led several Birthright Israel trips. In September 2013, she became a campus organizer for J Street U, the student organizing arm of J Street, and took on her current position in June.
We caught up with the Adams Morgan resident at J Street’s offices in downtown Washington to discuss a two-state solution, why J Street deserves to be in the pro-Israel tent and talking politics at D.C. watering holes.
How did you get involved in pro-Israel activism?
It started with a trip on Birthright. … To get off the plane and have signs in Hebrew and everyone be Jewish — really, from the moment I landed, I was in love and not expecting that at all.
How can J Street focus on a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when every day we hear about a stabbing, a shooting, a car-ramming — and the focus on a lot of people’s minds is security?
Security is one of the things that drives me and a lot of folks at J Street the most. I have six cousins under the age of 8 who live in Israel. Every time I see the news, they are who I think about. And so, the question for me is: What can I be doing every day to help ensure security for them and for their future? It is hard given everything that is happening; it can be very frustrating. What we’re seeing right now is what will continue to happen as long as we don’t have a two-state solution.
Is that your vision, J Street’s vision — an Israel that is Jewish and democratic at peace with a Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security?
What would you say to some of those in the pro-Israel Jewish community who might be skeptical of J Street’s intentions and commitment to Israel?
I would say read our positions and then let’s have a conversation. I in no way think that everyone in the community is going to agree with J Street’s policy positions, but let’s make sure that the starting point is what our positions are. Many of our organizations in the Jewish community go about pro-Israel advocacy in different ways and we may differ in how to best get there but ultimately we want the same thing, and that is a peaceful and secure Jewish and democratic Israel.
What is your favorite thing about living in Washington?
The bar or hangout conversation is political. That’s really dorky, but when I lived in New York, the kind of bar or dinner table conversation was about creative things and I’m not that creative. I love talking about politics. I love talking about what is going on in the world and I find that here that’s the norm as opposed to the exception. I also really love being close to my parents. They are just a short Metro ride away.
Do you have a favorite pastime?
Dancing. I started dancing in college. I started doing hip-hop. I was part of a dance troupe and I choreographed some in college. I’m a certified Zumba instructor. I haven’t started teaching a class, but I would say that dancing is something that I really love and would love to make more time for.