Dearest JFREJers,

On Monday, August 1st, I’ll be going offline for a three-month sabbatical. I will return on November 1st. Similarly, our wonderful Director of Organizing, Zahara Zahav, is leaving on a two-month sabbatical on August 4th and returning on October 6th.

Since 2015, JFREJ has offered a 2-3 month sabbatical to all full-time staff after five years on the team (the length depends on if they choose to use vacation for a third month or spread those weeks over the course of the year). Both Zahara and I are incredibly grateful for the time away, and to everyone on staff and in our membership who are making it possible for us to take this needed space.

For me personally, I’ve been in this role since the week of Trump’s inauguration in 2017. I was a first-time Executive Director, stepping into leadership at a time of great urgency for our political movements. And then just as I was getting my bearings and beginning to see the forest for the trees, rolling up my sleeves to go from defense to offense, COVID hit.

Many of you know my inability to hold back my expressed joy about our shared work. My face betrays me every time, as my heart jumps out of my chest while witnessing our members in action (that’s you!) and the tears well up on occasion while speaking publicly in our community. You all blow my mind and make me proud every single day, and it’s the honor of my life to humbly serve in this role.

And, I don’t feel the need to pretend like this hasn’t been a grueling 5+ years — politically, spiritually, physically, emotionally, psychically, and organizationally. We’ve been tested over and over again and we’ve grieved loss after loss. We don’t even have a word to describe the level of exhaustion affecting our movements at a time when the stakes continue to rise.

So what can we do?

Right after the Dobbs decision came down, I joined fellow JFREJ members and fellow New Yorkers in Washington Square Park for a mass mobilization. We distributed leaflets with direct action people could take (see here!) and as I handed these pieces of paper, I found myself repeating this line: “there’s not nothing we can do.”

Organizing is the antidote to despair. The problems of the world can feel insurmountable, and it’s easy to feel powerless in the face of them. But local grassroots organizing is how we pool our power together, and work to make our corner of the world a little better, a little more just, a little more caring. Collectively, we are going to keep our eyes on the prize of a vibrant Jewish Left and a New York where we all have the freedom to thrive.

But being able to see that prize — really see it — requires perspective. Perspective requires space. Without that space, our vision gets distorted. We lose sight of what we’re building and the joy we’re aiming to cultivate, and we get bogged down by those insurmountable-feeling problems.

So we’re also going to remind ourselves that we need to model the world that we want just as we fight tooth and nail to build it. And in a Shmita year in particular (a sabbatical year, or year of release in which all debts are forgiven), that means creating space for people to rest, find inspiration, shift perspective, use different parts of their brain, soak in the beauty of the world, learn and love and play.

That’s what I’m going to do. And I couldn’t be more grateful to our incredibly talented JFREJ staff and our dedicated Board of Directors for holding down the fort while both Zahara and I lean into our respective Shmita plans.

I have full faith and confidence in our team to keep JFREJ strong in our absence and I thank you all in advance for your patience and grace if things move a bit more slowly during this time.

I look forward to seeing you all in 5783.

With love and gratitude,

Audrey Sasson (she/her)
JFREJ Executive Director