Perhaps you have heard the old joke two Jews, three opinions? For anybody working or volunteering in the Jewish non-profit world, it is a joke that hits close to home as all too often, well meaning organizations doing similar work end up clashing over small disagreements or competing for resources and participants instead of working together.
Enter the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable. Founded in 2009, the roundtable serves to bring together the leadership of the country’s top Jewish organizations working towards social justice. The goal? Find ways to support one another’s work and collaborate when possible to further the shared mission of advancing social justice issues. Recently, Repair the World (a proud member of the roundtable) spoke with Nancy Kaufman, CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women, and a longtime member of the roundtable, to find out more about the group’s genesis, and the powerful benefits of working together.
What was the inspiration behind the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable?
In 1998, Ruth Messinger and I were on the board of AMOS: The National Jewish Partnership for Social Justice. It would turn out to be the
predecessor for the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable. AMOS collapsed in 2000 after the intifada began in Israel, and donors and many Jewish organizations became consumed with supporting Israel’s existence.
A few of us decided we wanted to continue to meet and support each other, so a small convening group was formed. We met informally for a couple of years trying to map a strategy for strengthening the emerging Jewish social justice movement in the US. In 2004, The Nathan Cummings Foundation funded a conference that brought together over 200 Jewish social justice activists from across the country. It was clear we had a “field” and needed to figure out how to create a more formal network of activists. What started with six organizations, grew to 12 then 18 and now has over 50 organizations!
Why join together as a group?
What is unique about this group is the time and effort we put into “thickening relationships” early on so we could build trust and camaraderie that transcended the usual narrow organizational turf boundaries. We broke through those because each of us was committed to transparency and honesty in our interactions both personally and professionally.
What are the benefits of being a part of the roundtable? Any challenges?
Each of us who have invested time and energy into the work of the roundtable has gotten much more back in return. We have shared “best practices” and ideas for growing the field and making social justice more central to Jewish life. There have been challenges, but we have been able to outweigh them by coming together for common good.
Can you share a story or two that demonstrates the group’s impact so far?
The Jewish Social Justice Matching Fund administered by the Jewish Funders Network in cooperation with several family foundations is but one example of the impact of our work. There are so many large and small examples of how we as professionals and our organizations have been positively impacted by the roundtable.