Topic: Heebster Politics
One significant component of the Heebster world focuses on political activism. These activists push in two directions at once. First, they work to mobilize the 'mainstream' Jewish community around issues such as environmentalism, Middle East reconciliation, racial equality, anti-poverty initiatives, globalization, feminism, etc. Second, they act in coalition with non-sectarian organizations as representatives of "the Jewish community." In other words, these activists work to both change the political priorities within the Jewish world (which they perceive as stale and conservative), and to display a Jewish commitment to general progressive causes.
It is a relatively recent phenomenon in Jewish America that Jews have directed their philanthropic resources outside the Jewish community. While the mainstream Jewish community continues to direct most of its energies towards helping other Jews in America and abroad, these Heebster activist organizations tend to form around issues external to the Jewish community. On the whole, these activists grew up in affluent Jewish communities. Seeing themselves as relatively privileged, they seek to redirect Jewish resources to what they perceive as the pressing problems of the world.
Organizations as diverse as American Jewish World Service, Ve'ahavta - The Canadian Jewish Humanitarian & Relief Committee, COEJL: Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, JFREJ | Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, Keshet Ga'avah the World Congress Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Jews, for example, all have educational components aimed at sensitizing the Jewish community to social and political matters that have been underrepresented in Jewish philanthropic history. Every one of them also works in concert with non-sectarian groups on matters of mutual concern.
Topics of Discussion
Why do these Jews choose to work within Jewish organizations instead of the broader activist community? Do they feel that they are more politically effective working within an ethnic group? Are they working within a specifically Jewish activist mode in order to enhance their own Jewish identities?
Do these Jews see their activist work as a religious Jewish behavior? If so, how do they express this spiritual aspect?
How are these organizations perceived and received by a mainstream Jewish world that continues to see its primary objectives as conserving and enlivening internal Jewish life, and providing for Jews in need?
Alpert, Rebecca T., ed. Voices of the Religious Left: A Contemporary Sourcebook. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2000.Brettschneider, Marla, ed. The Narrow Bridge: Jewish Views on Multiculturalism. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1996.
Walkowitz, Daniel J. Working with Class: Social Workers and the Politics of Middle-Class Identity. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999.