From Pittsburgh to Selma: Civil Rights Through a Jewish Lens

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“When the shooting in Pittsburgh happened, it was a wakeup call for me as a Jew,” Jan Kushner, 33, said. “It brought up an aspect of being Jewish in America I hadn’t thought about before” — revealing how her Judaism connected her to the larger struggles against American bigotry. She wanted to know more.

And so this past February, she headed south on National Young Leadership Cabinet’s Civil Rights Mission: a four-day trip to Birmingham, Selma and Montgomery.

“This was an easy trip to say yes to,” Kushner said.


National Young Leadership Cabinet (NYLC), or Cabinet, is The Jewish Federations of North America’s flagship leadership program. Its members are philanthropic-minded 30- and 40-somethings intent on building strong local and global Jewish communities, and are ready to be groomed into leaders. Cabinet members from across the country volunteer together; gather at retreats, conferences and social events; network with 4,000 alumni; and embark on travel for learning experiences through a Jewish lens.

The Civil Rights Mission was powerful for Kushner, a first-year Cabinet member.

Joined by half of the Philadelphia delegation and a large group of Cabinet members and alumni from across the country, she walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge — where in 1965 a peaceful march for voting rights was attacked by state troopers with batons and tear gas — and met with activist Joanne Bland, who survived that “Bloody Sunday.”

She visited the 16th Street Baptist Church, where four young girls were killed in a 1963 bombing. She also had Shabbat dinner at Birmingham’s Temple Beth El, whose members’ support of desegregation had targeted the shul for an attempted dynamite bombing in 1954. In learning about Jews’ long alliance in the African-American struggle, Kushner was moved to hear a rabbi speak of our own experience as Egyptian slaves, and of the subsequent obligation to treat others fairly and to protect the vulnerable.

“The trip was very timely, very present, very sobering,” she said. “I feel very lucky to have participated.” And she’s looking forward to more.

Applications for Young Leadership Cabinet are now open. To learn more or apply, visit jewishphilly.org/national-young-leadership-cabinet. Questions? Contact ssolomon@jewishphilly.org or 215-832-0894.

In Search of the Perfect Kosher Hamburger, and Other #MyIsraelStories

Have you been abandoned by a camel in the Negev? Found love in Israel via a jellyfish sting? Served as the IDF’s official gardener?

Did your cousin become president of Israel?

Last year, when the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia hosted storytelling workshops in celebration of Israel70, we discovered our community members had experienced all of these — and much more.

At our workshops, hosted in partnership with First Person Arts, participants from across Greater Philadelphia came out to master the art of storytelling, and then penned their own stories about their personal connections to Israel, which they shared during a filmed session.

We are proud to now release a selection of “My Israel Story” videos. Sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, always thought-provoking, these stories reveal the incredible range of experiences that join Greater Philadelphians to Israel.

Visit our youtube page at youtube.com/user/philafederation to hear from Susan as she searches out the finest kosher McDonald’s hamburger in all of Israel. After the first video finishes, the rest of our playlist will continue automatically. Enjoy.

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