While many college students are savoring their summer away from the classroom, George Washington University senior Elissa Froman can't wait for Labor Day to arrive. As a summer intern for Jews United for Justice (JUFJ), a Washington, DC-based nonprofit organization dedicated to local social-justice issues, Froman is coordinating the "Labor on the Bimah" project, an initiative that encourages Jewish clergy and community leaders to address labor and workers' rights issues during their Labor Day weekend worship services.
A Hillel student leader at GWU who founded the university's Jewish Progressive Political Association (JPPA), Froman is a veteran activist who has been involved in numerous campus and local social-action campaigns. Her experience will serve her well at JUFJ as she works to expand the "Labor on the Bimah" program beyond Washington-area synagogues to Hillels, Hebrew schools and youth groups. After recruiting participants, she matches them with speakers, such as Jewish social-justice activists or local workers, who share their powerful stories. In fact, hearing such a testimony inspired Froman to join the project.
"It was a program that personally moved and motivated me when I heard a speaker," she said. "I see it as my responsibility that the oppression Jews experienced in the past doesn't happen to other people."
A native of Wilmette, Ill., Froman's passion for Tzedek (social justice) programs grew out her involvement in Hillel. While attending the Charlotte B. and Jack J. Spitzer B'nai B'rith Hillel Forum on Public Policy during her freshman year, she met students at other universities whose Hillels had strong social-action and political programming. Their activism moved her to start the JPPA the following semester, and she found many like-minded, Jewish students who were eager to work together and take advantage of their location in the nation's capital.
"We had access to all these organizations throughout the city that we could use to learn how they connected political action with Jewish values," Froman said.
JPPA initiatives include a campaign for workers' rights at the university, in which members advocated for living wages and union membership for GWU employees. The students also pushed the university to join the Worker Rights Consortium, a coalition of college and universities that seeks to ensure that companies that produce university-licensed apparel respect the basic rights of their workers.
After only two years in existence, the JPPA boasts 250 members on its mailing list. Froman credits its popularity to a strong support base of GWU Hillel professionals and students who share her dedication to social activism.
"It goes to show that where there's a demand and no supply, things will happen," she said.
To learn more about "Labor on the Bimah," sponsored by JUFJ, the Jewish Fund for Justice and the National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice, and how to bring it to your community this Labor Day, please e-mail email@example.com.