Wherever there is a Jewish social justice campaign in D.C., you can bet that Nathaniel Berman will not only be involved, but will be leading the charge.
The son of a rabbi, Berman, 35, grew up in New York City and moved to the Washington area eight years ago, after law school. He works in the federal government as a labor and industrial relations program specialist at the Department of Labor.
Outside of his work with the government, Berman has been involved in many Jewish social justice organizations, including Jews United for Justice, where he worked to help pass paid sick leave in the District and Maryland. He is currently working with JUFJ’s paid family leave campaign.
He is also involved in American Jewish World Service’s new DC Action Team, co-chairing their We Believe campaign that advocates Congress to pass the International Violence Against Women Act.
Berman sings in the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue chorus, a Jewish gospel choir that performs with former Sixth & I tenant Turner Memorial AME Church at the synagogue’s annual MLK Shabbat.
Berman recently took time out from his busy schedule to talk with WJW about his experiences in the Jewish social justice scene and his advice for young Jewish adults who want to get involved in community action.
How has being the son of a rabbi influenced you?
I’d say greatly. I feel like there’s a lot of pressure to acclimate when you are a rabbi’s kid, that you have to be part of the community all the time whether you want to or not. So I quickly learned that I had to go with whatever was happening with my father at a given point in time. Rather than fighting it, I kind of made it my own at a certain point and took it in my own direction, the social justice direction — just seeing how he was very involved with the community around him inspired me to get involved with communities around me.
What Jewish social justice movement victories have you seen since you became involved?
I’ve certainly seen the victories that have occurred through coalitions. Something I kind of saw at a micro level, whether it was just following my dad around or getting involved on college campuses. But as a working professional who can foster connections and go to coalition meetings, I can see that paid sick leave and hopefully paid family leave is going to get passed through county councils and that the relationships with local organizations like Jobs with Justice, with other worker’s rights organizations is really strong and can continue to lead to different victories along the way.
What was it like singing at MLK Shabbat at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue?
MLK Shabbat combines a Jewish service and gospel aspects of service and so when I heard that there was going to be a joint black- Jewish chorus I immediately signed up for that because that to me is a great way to unify the two movements. So we kind of Jew-ified some gospel music and gospel-ized some Jewish music and I think the reaction was really tremendous. The two communities are more similar than they are different and putting that on display at a sold out crowd was really exciting and inspiring.
What advice do you have for young Jewish adults in the D.C. area who want to get involved in the Jewish social justice community?
Really, just keep your eyes and ears open and react to what inspires you. I mean that’s honestly how I’ve done it. Talk to people who you think might have a similar interest to you and see where opportunities are because there are so many in D.C. It’s really incredible. I often exhaust myself trying to do as much as I can and there are still things that I miss out on. There are still organizations that I wish I could spend more time with but the truth is there are only so many hours in the day but there are so many great community-based organizations and non-profit organizations that are doing tremendous work that if you have a passion for anything at all you can find it in an organization in D.C. And that’s what I love about this community.