A History of JFREJ

Print this pagePrint this page

Over 20 Years of Impact

Over the past 20 years, JFREJ has had considerable impact on the social justice landscape of New York City. In 1999, we worked with the Coalition Against Police Brutality to fight for increased levels of accountability, a Civilian Police Review Board with real power, and in opposition to the racist tactics of the New York City Police. JFREJ members were a strong Jewish presence at rallies, marches, hearings, and in the media and were instrumental in winning more power for the Review Board and forcing then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to address police brutality in a serious way. In 2000, we joined the Campaign for Fiscal Equity in the fight against the privatization of New York schools by the Edison Corporation and were successful in stopping the transfer of public schools to private corporate control. From 2000 to 2003, JFREJ teamed up with the Latin American Workers Project to support Mexican and Central American workers’ efforts to win back wages and over-time pay at the Tuv Taam factory in Brooklyn. In 2003, the New York Attorney General awarded a million-dollar settlement on behalf of the Tuv Taam workers. From 2002 to 2010, JFREJ turned out in force to support Domestic Workers United, organizing domestic employers to fight side-by-side with domestic workers for basic worker rights. JFREJ and DWU successfully passed the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in the New York City Council, the first bill of its kind to pass in the country, and then went on to win the New York State Domestic Worker Bill of Rights in 2010 – the first state-wide legislation in the United States to provide labor protections for domestic workers.

Here's a fabulous history of JFREJ's work performed by Jenny Romaine and Daniel Lang/Levitsky at the Fall 2012 Membership meeting. 

Past Campaigns

Housing Justice in the Lower East Side (2007 - 2012)

Justice for Tuv Taam Workers (2000 - 2003)

Campaign for Quality Public Schools (1999 - 2001)

People's Agenda for a New Beginning (Jan 2001 - April 2001)

Campaign Against Police Brutality & Amadou Diallo Coalition

Campaigns for Decent Jobs at Living Wages

JFREJ Timeline

1990 - 1995

  • After months of meetings with Jewish activists and leaders across New York City, JFREJ co-founders Donna Nevel and Marilyn Kleinberg Neimark convene JFREJ's first meeting in Rabbi Marshall T. Meyer's living room.
  • JFREJ was the only group, as its inaugural action, to hold a Jewish reception for Nelson Mandela's visit to NYC
  • JFREJ organizes a speaking engagement for long-time civil rights activist Julian Bond entitled “Racial Justice, Black-Jewish Relations, and the Meaning of the Civil Rights Struggle in Our Time” at Congregation B'nai Jeshurun
  • Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz is hired as JFREJ's first paid staff member
  • JFREJ incorporates, Board of Directors is established, & JFREJ becomes a membership organization
  • JFREJ offers first anti-racism workshop
  • JFREJ organizes our first conference-- In Gernagl/In Struggle/Con Pena: A Celebration of Progressive Jewish History
  • JFREJ joins the picket line with Chinese Staff and Workers' Association (CSWA) to support their successful efforts to organize at the Silver Palace Restaurant, the first unionized restaurant in Chinatown
  • JFREJ launches the Campaign Against the Politics of Meanness (includes street protests when Newt Gingrich is honored at the Jewish Theological Seminary, labor and anti-police brutality protests)
  • JFREJ holds first Annual Rabbi Marshall T. Meyer Awards honoring Henry Schwarzschild

1995 - 2000

  • JFREJ holds forum on Republican attacks on welfare, affirmative action, and immigrants rights
  • JFREJ launches Campaign for Decent Jobs at Living Wages
  • JFREJ organizes a speak-out at City Hall on the occasion of Rabbi Heschel's yahrzeit (memorial) and Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's birthday
  • Beyond the Pale, the only Jewish program on radio or television devoted to bringing a progressive lens to political and cultural debates, begins
  • JFREJ collaborates with the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in a conference and concert marking the 100th anniversary of the Jewish Labor Bund
  • Tashlich at Battery Park City — amazing community/ritual moment
  • JFREJ participates in a day of protest leading to over 120 arrests of Jews, including 13 rabbis, and others on the steps of City Hall in response to the acquittal of all officers in the murder of Amadou Diallo. A picture of JFREJ protesters was featured on the front page of the New York Times
  • JFREJ plays major role in the anti-police brutality movement. JFREJ has amazing impact and becomes ensnared in movement

2000 - 2005

2005 - 2010

  • JFREJ holds its tenth annual Rabbi Marshall T. Meyer Risk Taker Awards ceremony honoring Tony Kushner, Grace Paley and the Transport Workers Union Local 100
  • JFREJ organizes the first Jewish response to the massive Immigrant marches. The petition, entitled “This Passover, We Stand for Freedom,” is signed by over 2,000 individuals in less than two weeks and published in two Jewish newspapers reaching hundreds of thousands of people
  • After an internal campaign of over 300 one to one meetings, JFREJ launches a new campaign for Housing Justice
  • JFREJ stands with Debbie Almontaser, an educator and bridge-builder who was forced to resign as Principal of the Kahlil Gibran International Academy, an Arabic language and culture middle-school, after a right-wing campaign
  • GOLES (Good Old Lower East Side) invites JFREJ to join the campaign for mixed-use housing and business development on the Seward Park Renewal Area
  • JFREJ hosts “Jewish Community Stands with Domestic Workers,” a 300 person public forum in support of the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights
  • JFREJ joins with Jews Against Islamophobia and gathers weekly outside the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Museum of Tolerance to demand that it support Park51, the embattled Muslim community center in Downtown Manhattan, and oppose Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism
  • Victory! The Domestic Workers Bill of Rights passes and JFREJ begins working with Domestic Workers United on implementation of the new law