Fellowship Program Expands to Philadelphia

Bend the Arc, among other groups, march against police brutality in 2014. (Photo provided)

Bend The Arc, a Los Angeles-based progressive Jewish organization, will expand its Jeremiah Fellowships to Philadelphia starting in 2019.

Until now, Bend the Arc’s training program was only available to those already in (or willing to relocate to) L.A. and the San Francisco Bay Area. (Denver, St. Louis, Miami, Cleveland and Long Island were also included in the expansion).

“I’m really excited to bring the program to Philadelphia,” said Carrie Sterns, the fellowship’s national director. “There’s a lot of incredible community organizing already happening there.”

The fellowship, which is offered to Jews ages 22 to 32, is intended to train young community activists as they either make their first foray into organizing or if they’re looking to improve skills they’ve honed elsewhere.

It’s “designed to be an entry-level program,” Sterns said, though “the strongest fellows are folks who have some background in social justice.” Cohorts will be five to a city; “small enough that it can be a really tight community,” according to Sterns, “but big enough to be able to access other networks and bring other people on board.”

The fellowship works like this: After the five fellows are chosen, they’ll be connected via national Bend the Arc staff and local representatives in each of their cities. (In Philadelphia, it will be the national training coordinator and the rabbinical intern). Following that, they’ll meet to figure how they can assist local organizing groups which are involved in work related to Bend the Arc’s organizational focuses. For the near future, Sterns said, they’ll work with groups on immigration, criminal justice reform and fighting white nationalism, among other priorities.

The fellows will attend national workshops, learn about Jewish social justice history and meet several times a month to better their organizing skills and strategize on how to assist the groups that they’ll be working with.

David Bocarsly, 28, is a staffer for California state Sen. Ben Allen, and was a Jeremiah Fellow in 2017. The UCLA grad wanted an opportunity to marry his love of public policy and the values he was taught were distinctly Jewish: social justice and “loving the stranger as yourself.”

Bocarsly was first exposed to Bend the Arc during his time in another fellowship, the nationally known public affairs fellowship with the Coro Foundation. Fellows were expected to spend five-week stints with various public policy groups, and Bocarsly found himself working everywhere from the private sector to labor unions. Those were assignments, however, and for the final stint, fellows had to find their own group. Bocarsly connected with Bend the Arc and, in his short time there, he fell in love with the organization.

“The Jewish community needs to be in coalition and in solidarity with other vulnerable communities,” he said, and Bend the Arc was.

After he moved back to L.A., he decided that he would apply for the Jeremiah Fellowship while he finished his master’s at the University of Southern California. During his time as a fellow, he learned how to help other activist groups in the way that they needed to be helped, rather than the way that he thought would work. He learned about how to organize effective campaigns, and how rally community members around a cause that they might not typically support.

He came in toward the end of an affordable housing linkage fee campaign, which sought to tax developers to create more public funding for low-income housing, a campaign that was ultimately successful. Part of what made that campaign successful for Bend the Arc, he said, was that they recognized the need to be good coalition members rather than front-line leaders. That recognition, he said, could only come through what he learned as a fellow.

“It’s a very principled and intentional type of training,” he said.

To Sterns, a successful year doesn’t necessarily mean a successful campaign — though that wouldn’t hurt — but rather, that the fellows are ready for the next one.

A successful year, she said, “means that these fellows are really equipped with the core organizing skills that they need.”

As for the type of person that would take on the sort of work that he did, according to Bocarsly, it’s quite clear.

“If you believe that your Jewish values are such that you want to make the world a better place, this is a program to teach you how to do that,” he said.

jbernstein@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0740


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