For more than six decades, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism has worked to educate, inspire, and mobilize the Reform Jewish Movement to advocate for social justice both within our Jewish community and outside of it. Key to that work are the young leaders of the Eisendrath Legislative Assistant Fellowship, a year-long fellowship for recent college graduates (or individuals with equivalent academic and professional experience) who care deeply about Judaism, social justice, and public policy.
The “LAs,” as they’re known, monitor legislation, represent Reform Movement institutions on Capitol Hill and in coalitions, and act as the voice of the Reform Movement's nearly 850 congregations, 2,000 rabbis, and more than 1.5 million Reform Jews. They’re also responsible for training and empowering the next generation of Reform Movement leaders through our Social Justice Academy and L’Taken Social Justice Seminars. And the LAs will play a vital role in the RAC's Racial Justice Initiative, launching this spring, which will continue to guide the Reform Jewish community in pursuing internal antiracism and anti-oppression work and becoming better equipped to combat injustice outwardly.
The LAs are at the heart of every aspect of the Reform Movement's social justice work. To date, though, the Eisendrath Legislative Assistant Fellowship has not fully reflected the diversity of the Movement it represents – and we’re committed to changing that.
Five years ago, the URJ began its focus on racial equity, diversity and inclusion through the efforts of our Audacious Hospitality team – ongoing work to address oppression both internally and externally and to better embrace our Movement’s diversity. This work is part of a larger, continuous effort to identify and examine our practices, policies, budget, and daily actions through a racial equity, diversity, and inclusion (REDI) lens. With this in mind, one of our primary goals is to recruit and sustain a diverse staff.
As this work continues, we are proud to announce our partnership with the Jews of Color Initiative, which is dedicated to the professional and communal advancement of Jews of Color. The RAC has committed to extending fellowships to at least two Jews of Color for each of the fellowship’s 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 classes. These LAs will receive culturally responsive professional development, mentorship from Leaders of Color, and an additional and a more equitable cost-of-living stipend.
Recognizing that these fellows will be working in a primarily white-dominated organization, we have begun and remain committed to providing REDI training to managers and other staff to strive to create an environment where all employees of Color – including our legislative assistants – can be safe. Since September 2019, the Reform Movement has committed to planning and implementing REDI training at multiple levels of our organizations, including training with the executive team, management, camps, and staff from various departments; this includes trainings around white privilege, fragility, and the common microaggressions and racism that Jews of Color experience in white-dominated spaces. Because it is our intention that the new LAs receive as much support as possible so they can thrive in their roles, we will also be contracting Leaders of Color to provide mentorship, support, allyship, and professional development opportunities for Jews of Color serving as legislative assistants.
Furthermore, when it comes to the impact of the Eisendrath Legislative Assistant Fellowship, we recognize the program’s power to introduce LAs to influential leaders, communities, and networks, setting them on a path for future success. Throughout the Reform Movement, the LAs are known as a talented and innovative cohort seen as our Movement’s future lay and institutional leaders; the range of experiences and relationships formed during the fellowship pave the way for future careers in Jewish professional life, politics, and placements within prestigious organizations. Therefore, we recognize the importance of creating a fellowship experience that is equitable and inclusive so that our Movement’s diverse voices and contributions can be better recognized and honored.
For more than 40 years, the RAC’s Eisendrath Legislative Assistants have been integral to the Reform Movement’s social justice work through creating impactful programs, crafting the policies that are the foundation of our work, and lobbying policymakers. It’s nearly impossible to identify an area of our work in which the LAs have not played a vital role, so it’s vital that we ensure that for the next 40 years and beyond, the legislative assistant program fully represents the broad and essential diversity of our Reform Movement – and, indeed, of the entire Jewish community.