Carolina Jews for Justice Connects through Innovative Media

Custom & Craft
Los Angeles, California United States
Leadership team

Eileen Levinson, Founder & Creative Director
Wendy Jackler, Program Manager

Organization website
Prize category
1 – 3 years
Target audience

In a period when local news is sparse but state public policy can have a major impact on daily life, CJJ uses an email newsletter to inform the Jewish community about local policy debates. Integrating Jewish commentary and values from Rabbis, members, and others, the newsletter and other CJJ social media successfully educate and move local Jews to collective action as Jews. In three years, our newsletter has become a highly valued source of information and has encouraged more Jewish community members to be politically active on issues like education, access to health care, poverty, and voting rights.

What Jewish wisdom do you use in your work?

-Thanksgiving 2015, Rabbis from Chapel Hill and Raleigh, as well as a member from our Western NC steering committee offered reflections on workers' rights and living wages. Our newsletter featured articles from each contributor, as well as encouragement to think about different ways local Jews could address low-wage work and poverty in North Carolina. The newsletter also included newsclips that featured examples of local NC projects to raise wages in Greensboro, Orange County, Wake County and more. The newsletter reached over 800 subscribers across the state.
-When the North Carolina legislature passed legislation that discriminated against LGBTQ and especially transgender individuals, CJJ used its newsletter to bring attention to a letter that over 45 NC Rabbis wrote opposing the law. CJJ then helped organize a Passover press conference and Hallel service at the legislature, led by local Rabbis, to show that such discrimination violated our Jewish values and were not part of our community. The newsletter featuring these actions was received by over 900 members of the community and drew new subscribers/supporters to CJJ and the larger Jewish community.
-In April 2015, CJJ published a newsletter that advertised a forum on Medicaid Expansion in North Carolina. Each of the three forums we held featured Jewish text study or a Jewish speaker, as well as a presentation by an expert on the policy arguments for and against Medicaid Expansion in the state. The same newsletter integrated newsclips about why Medicaid expansion matters for readers that did not attend the forum. It also included other NC news about upcoming policy developments in the state. Finally, the newsletter featured the news that CJJ had delivered a letter from over 200 community members opposing a bill that limited religious freedom for religious minorities, and linked to a blog post about delivering the letter. Finally, we followed the newsletter with a "Week of Action" on Medicaid Expansion where we posted facts and information about the issue on our Facebook page every day. Not only did several hundred people read the newsletter, several individual CJJ members then went on to speak at public forums in support of Medicaid Expansion. Several synagogues in the state passed resolutions supporting Medicaid expansion in connection with their Jewish values, and CJJ has been featured as a coalition co-sponsor for the larger statewide campaign.
-Our newsletter has featured High Holiday sermons on relevant social justice topics from various local synagogues, which provides access to local community members that might attend different synagogues. We also produce holiday supplements (Chanukah, Passover, Sukkot) that tie together local issues like voting rights, workers' rights, etc. to Jewish holidays/prayers/values.

How does your program work to make that wisdom accessible and directly applicable to your audience's lives?

Carolina Jews for Justice (CJJ) is a Jewish, grassroots network committed to creating a just, fair and compassionate North Carolina. Founded in 2013, CJJ combines advocacy and education to organize a non-partisan Jewish voice in North Carolina. We work to influence policy at the local and state levels and encourage individuals and Jewish institutions to take a stand on important issues in our community.

Our communications program, centered around a monthly newsletter that reaches Jews across the state, and following with regular social media, ties together daily events that local Jews care about and offers Jewish values and insights that allow readers to be active politically as part of their Jewish identity. We draw from a wide variety of sources-- local Rabbis provide written content, individual members contribute their reflections, and we also circulate material written nationally that is relevant and of interest. By tying the Jewish wisdom to daily political issues, we are reaching members of the Jewish community where they are and helping them increase their engagement in a Jewish way, with other Jews in the community. This is particularly important in a state where a great deal of political activism is led by churches. It can be alienating to be alone as a Jew advocating for social justice in North Carolina, and it is also important to local Jews to see their local institutions publicly supporting social justice in the public sphere. Our use of an email newsletter and social media allows us to reach an audience that is spread out across the state and build connections across the Jewish community, for affiliated and non-affiliated Jews, as well as across synagogues and institutions around the state that often do not interact.

What impact has your program had on your participants?

CJJ has successfully increased Jewish learning in and across the state and built extensive new networks within the North Carolina Jewish community. In addition, our communications tools have made it more acceptable for more individuals, Jewish leaders, and Jewish institutions to work together for social justice in the state as a Jewish community. Our mailing list has grown from 50 people to 976 in just 3 years. We are frequently told that members value the information in our newsletters, and Rabbis and Jewish institutions now seek us out to share information. Recently in the Triangle, we went from no Jewish participation in a local LGBT pride march to several separate synagogues/federation participating, to a shared collective participation this year. After our Passover event on transgender rights, Rabbis talked with pride about the event as a rare and unprecedented opportunity to work together and asked if we could aim for similar events once a year. The education foundation we have laid about raising wages and addressing income inequality in the state have allowed us to commit to a statewide campaign over the next several years on these issues in North Carolina. Our communications and outreach has been critical to engaging Jewish participants and has built a strong community for action in the future, as well as elevated longstanding and new Jewish leaders in the community.

What have you learned about applied Jewish wisdom that contributes to your success?

We have learned that a pluralistic, wide approach to Jewish wisdom that features a wide variety of formats: text study at a forum, personal stories in a newsletter, references to history and text, Facebook, email, and live events, reaches a diverse audience. Different people engage with different types of material, but overall, there is a tremendous interest in the North Carolina Jewish community in hearing from Rabbis across the state, fellow Jews, and in learning more about the local news and what's happening in the state on important local issues like education, voting rights, health care, and more. By tying policy news, information, and Jewish content together, we are able to engage a broad and growing audience, and draw them in, moving people from readers to advocates in the public, working together as a public Jewish community. Our newsletter and social media outreach has built a stronger Jewish community across the state and helped foster personal connections by keeping people connected on a consistent basis. This outreach is critical for taking less frequent personal interactions and building community over time. It also grounds our advocacy in Jewish values and ideas, while educating the Jewish community about why action is sometimes required. Overall, our outreach through a regular newsletter and other forms of media has been a tremendous success in fostering community and activism for social justice across the North Carolina Jewish community.