by Anna Rubin
National Field Organizer
Interfaith Worker Justice
I realized recently that I draw a great deal of meaning from the fact that in Judaism, our new year is marked by completing a cycle of sharing, analyzing, and discussing our community’s history, and then immediately picking right back up to begin again. During the High Holidays, we celebrate a return to the beginning of our communal storytelling by gathering together en masse to go through the prayers, practices, and meals that formally and ritually mark a fresh start for all of us.
As I begin my time here at Interfaith Worker Justice, we are thinking and talking en masse, in staff meetings and calls with partners, about what our story has been as an organization, and what our story means to us now as we move into another year. I’ve heard from our partners fighting for sufficient bathroom breaks in poultry facilities, wage theft ordinances at the state and county level, and numerous other labor battles that IWJ has supported since the beginning or taken up over time as our network’s focus, goals, and capacity have shifted and grown. It feels like in many ways all of us in the IWJ network, whether new or seasoned veterans, are drawing energy from this story. We are venturing out with fresh perspective and revived motivation and energy to do the work and tell the ever evolving story that has defined IWJ year after year since its founding.
These collective discussions have given me an opportunity to dissect what IWJ’s mission and values mean to me. When I tell people I’m working at Interfaith Worker Justice, people who know me well will often respond, “Wow, those are three great words for you.” Very true!
I was a religion major in college, and have been involved in faith-based organizing over the past year with the Chicagoland Jewish community. I love the ways faith moves people to action, gives people with a context for their sense of self, and provides a community in which people feel inspired to build their own power and the power of their community. I am moved by the unwavering stance IWJ takes on bringing faith communities and faith voices into the fight for worker justice, even when, for some, the role of the faith community may seem less clear.
And justice. This organization does not stop at advocacy, service, or politicking, but goes straight to the heart of the matter: we are pursuing justice in the truest sense of that phrase, and the IWJ network will not stop until working people everywhere are paid a living wage in safe, healthy, and respectful conditions, and where everyone understands their own ability to build and use their power to keep conditions that way.This past year I had the opportunity to work with the Illinois Domestic Workers Coalition when their five-year campaign came to a victorious climax, as the Illinois Domestic Workers Bill of Rights was signed into law. What an incredible feeling. For months I was listening to the stories of these women who endured terrible working conditions and employer treatment, and who then joined this grassroots fight for justice for all working people in Illinois. The fight for worker justice has a long and storied history in the U.S. Jewish community, especially among Jewish women, and I am proud to play whatever role I can in furthering worker’s rights today. L’dor v’dor – from generation, to generation.
Each word in our name speaks to a different piece of why I’m inspired to organize. I am so grateful to be able to reflect and take stock of these motivating factors by starting off the year with IWJ.
By beginning our story again in Judaism, we remind ourselves that there is always more to learn from the same text, always more to glean from the same lessons told year after year. There is always room for growth, always room for new inspiration within a story that has long grown comfortable and well-worn. I’m excited to begin at an organization that has an auspicious history of work over the time of its existence, and I’m excited to be a part of the innovations that are happening every day in our office and with our partners across the country.
I hope we all use this Rosh Hashanah and High Holiday season generally to take stock of what pieces of our own stories drive us to fight for justice, and what pieces of our communal stories can sustain us when the going gets tough. May this year be one of power and peace for us all.