Dear JFREJ members,

If you’ve seen me in the past couple of weeks, then you already know: I’m having a baby in a few months! I will be out on parental leave from May through July. And then, in Fall 2023, after twelve life-changing years, I’ll be transitioning out of my staff role at JFREJ.

I’ve been reflecting on something that happened in September of 2011, a few months after I started this job. Occupy Wall Street had begun a few weeks prior, and New York felt electric with possibility. I’m pretty sure it was Rosh Hashanah services at Kolot Chayeinu where Rabbi Ellen Lippmann shared a poem that I’d never come across before:

To be of use
By Marge Piercy
The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.
I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.
I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.
The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

I immediately (and inappropriately, as I was in synagogue) pulled out my phone, googled the poem, and texted it to Dove Kent, JFREJ’s then-Executive Director and only other full-time staff member at the time. It put into words how I felt about the project we’d embarked on together when we both accepted jobs at JFREJ that year. We were charged with pulling JFREJ back from the brink of shutting its doors, rebuilding a beloved New York institution that we knew deep down had a vital role to play in building a vibrant left in our city, one capable of mobilizing thousands of Jews to help change New York from a playground for the wealthy into a real democracy for all of us.

The poem also summed up what I love so much about JFREJ members, both then and now. The people who commit themselves to the work of building JFREJ — more often than not women and gender non-conforming folks — aren’t in it for fame or laurels, and they’re not looking to participate in something easy. People like Jenny Romaine, Anna Jacobs, Carlyn Cowen, and Bobbie Sackman know what it means to submerge in the task and humbly do their part in rhythm with others. Over the last 30+ years, a rotating but remarkably stable cast of characters have come together to create a community that we ourselves yearn for, but we’ve known that if we built it with love and care, thousands more would eventually want to call it home too. And most importantly, if we manage to grow something really big and effective, then we could do our part in turning the New York Left once again into a force for genuine social transformation. If we work with a sense of urgency but also massive patience, our beloved city, our home, could become a place where everyone has dignified work, a safe place to live, access to free and high-quality education from 3K through college, trains that arrive on time, excellent universal healthcare, childcare, home care, and all the things that working people need to thrive.

Like so many JFREJ members, I’ve always stubbornly believed that we can be unapologetically diasporist and radical (with all the glitter and gayness that that entails) and simultaneously extremely serious about strategy and winning, serious about hard-hitting campaigns rooted in our material conditions. I’ve stayed for as long as I have because I truly believed — and still do! — that this scrappy organization has some special sauce that no other organization does, and that we could build and exercise ground-breaking Left political and electoral power too.

After twelve years on staff at JFREJ, I feel a tremendous sense of satisfaction with what we’ve built together. I also feel that it’s the right time for me to step aside and serve our city and our people in a new role. Our organization is in a stronger place than it’s ever been, politically, financially, and otherwise. And the current team of staff, board, and member leaders definitely has what it takes to do what must be done in the face of the fascist MAGA movement as well as massive corporations, racist police unions, powerful real estate tycoons, and corrupt political machines. Drawing from our Jewish values and our diverse histories, with persistence, commitment, and care, we are working to dismantle the systems and institutions that perpetuate racism, inequity, and injustice, and grow something new and beautiful in their place. And I can’t wait to assume my role as a member leader and continue working alongside all of you.

JFREJ will be hiring for two roles in the coming months: a Political Director and a Campaigns Director. Audrey and I are working to make sure that I’ll be able to overlap with both new hires when I return from my parental leave. We also hope that you’ll help us find the right people for these very awesome jobs. Please share them widely, and if you yourself are interested in either one, please RSVP for this info session on February 15th at 6:30 PM.

Perhaps you’re wondering what I’m planning to do next. I’ve long felt clear that my next career needs to be in the care sector and the labor movement, surrounded still by hard-working women. Well, after taking some time off with the new baby, I’m planning to go to nursing school!

I’m not going anywhere yet, and I know some JFREJers are cooking up opportunities for a meaningful send-off in the coming months. In the meantime, I look forward to seeing you at an upcoming Albany lobby day, co-governance session, or campaign meeting. And no matter where I am, I plan always to be an organizer, fighting for a New York City for the many, not the few, and continuing to serve the movement as I have done for the past twelve years.

Solidarity forever,
Rachel McCullough (she/her)
JFREJ Political Director