50 Faces of Justice
This week’s 50 faces of justice are true community organizers, using tactics that they learned directly from their interaction with the Reform Movement. Whether they are alumni of L’Taken Seminars, our Machon Kaplan internship program or our Commission on Social Action, these Jewish leaders have turned discrete programmatic and leadership skills into successful efforts to protect the most vulnerable among us.
Continue to check back on Friday afternoons to read about each of our 50 Faces of Justice!
Mark Gruber’s first interaction with social justice came when he was in eighth or ninth grade. He remembers attending a school board meeting, where he suggested that money could be saved by cutting bus routes and might instead be better spent on books and school supplies for students. Many parents were angry by his suggestion and, to his surprise, he was escorted home by the police.
Social justice was never something that Rabbi Paskoff had to force into his understanding of Judaism; the sermons that he grew up hearing (from David Saperstein’s father’s pulpit) were infused with themes and lessons from the civil rights movement, activism for Israel, and Soviet Judaism. In religious school, Saperstein’s mother incorporated these same themes of social action into her lesson plans.
In 2004, the Democratic National Convention was held in Boston. That year, a newly elected Senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, gave an electrifying speech and captured the attention of a young CNN intern named Eric Lesser. Just a few years later, Lesser found himself working for David Axelrod, among the closest advisors to President Obama, seated just outside the Oval Office.
Dr. Cheryl Gutmann, the outgoing chair of the Commission on Social Action, has been committed to principles of social justice since childhood. At age six, she remembers seeing numbers tattooed on the arms of family members and friends who were Holocaust survivors and hearing their stories, and even at such a young age she was acutely aware of what could happen when minority rights are not protected.
“At the Religious Action Center I learned about passion, and I learned about details,” says Rabbi David Stern, reflecting on his time as an Eisendrath Legislative Assistant. Rabbi Stern recalls calling his parents late one night to announce with great enthusiasm that “HR 1423 passed the House!” His parents’ groggy response? “And what exactly is an HR 1423?”