In 1990, after months of meetings with Jewish activists and leaders across New York City, JFREJ Community (then called simply "JFREJ") co-founders Donna Nevel and Marilyn Kleinberg Neimark convened JFREJ's first meeting in Rabbi Marshall T. Meyer's living room. According to Donna and Marilyn, JFREJ was founded because:

“In New York City a conservative Jewish voice not only defined what were so-called Jewish interests, but also influenced the city's priorities more generally-and it still does; the absence of a strong alternative to the self-appointed conservative spokespeople for New York City's Jews was distorting political life in New York.… We formed JFREJ to reject apathy and quiescence, to demand the city address the desperate needs of the vulnerable and the oppressed, to build on and expand alliances with other progressive communities, to keep focused on the long-term goal of building a more just society, to offer a place where Jewish identity and commitment to social justice are not at odds. We formed JFREJ to disturb the peace.”

Not long after that first living room meeting, JFREJ held our first first public event on June 15, 1990: A Shabbat service and celebration to welcome Nelson Mandela to New York City. While the American Jewish establishment deliberately snubbed the anti-apartheid hero over his support for Palestinian freedom, JFREJ organized an event to honor Mandela and raised $50,000 for the anti-apartheid struggle. While JFREJ was founded to focus on local organizing in NYC, these early rabble rousers knew then, as we do now, that our liberation as Jews is tied up with the liberation of all people around the world.

JFREJ remains committed to organizing locally in New York City; our home. This commitment is rooted in Diasporism, a term coined by one of JFREJ's founders, Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz:

“What do I mean by home? Not the nation state; not religious worship; not the deepest grief of a people marked by hatred. I mean a commitment to what is and is not mine; to the strangeness of others, to my strangeness to others; to common threads twisted with surprise. Diasporism takes root in the Jewish Socialist Labor Bund’s principle of doikayt — hereness — the right to be, and to fight for justice, wherever we are…Doikayt is about wanting to be citizens, to have rights, to not worry about being shipped off at any moment where someone else thinks you do or don’t belong…I name this commitment Diasporism.”

In the thirty years since the living room meeting and Shabbat celebration, JFREJ continued to fight for justice in our beloved city, arm-in-arm with our neighbors. In the process, JFREJ changed the landscape of the Jewish community nationwide, led a reinvigorated Jewish Left into the 21st Century, and — with our many movement partners — made a powerful impact on the lives of all New Yorkers.


In 2021, JFREJ Action, a 501c4, was created to carry on JFREJ's extraordinary legacy of fighting for justice. The 501c3 that was JFREJ was renamed JFREJ Community. In this history, when we refer to "JFREJ" we are referring to JFREJ Community, a 501c3 organization. Learn more about the history of JFREJ Community here.
Protesting police violence in the 1990s

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 is the only Jewish group to organize an event welcoming Nelson Mandela to NYC, organizing a Shabbat celebration that featured civil rights heroes, including Harry Belafonte.

  • 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.

  • 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).

1995–2000

  • JFREJ launches the 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.

  • JFREJ partners with WBAI to help produce Beyond the Pale, the only Jewish program on radio or television devoted to bringing a progressive lens to political and cultural debates.

  • JFREJ participates in a day of protest in response to the acquittal of all officers in the murder of Amadou Diallo. Over 120 Jews, including 13 rabbis, and others are arrested on the steps of City Hall. JFREJ becomes active in the anti-police brutality movement from this day forward.

JFREJ supporters gather outside with signs

2000–2005

  • JFREJ teams 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. Tuv Taam workers ultimately win the right to unionize and sign $1,075,000 settlement for back wages.

  • The JFREJ Activist Youth Theater Group wows audiences from Prospect Heights to Albany, from Brighton Beach to the Bronx with youth-created theatre on prisons, police brutality and public education.

  • Following 9/11, JFREJ partners with Arab and Muslim groups across New York to challenge the rise of anti-Arab Racism and Islamophobia.

  • JFREJ launches a Racial Justice/Immigrant Justice campaign in coalition with ally organizations in response to the attacks on immigrants all over the city and the country, and to protest calls for unjust war and retaliation

  • JFREJ joins Domestic Workers United to organize employers in the fight to pass the Domestic Worker Bill of Rights in the New York City Council. It is the first bill of its kind to pass in the United States. JFREJ later helps found the Employers for Justice Network in support of this groundbreaking legislation.

  • JFREJ coordinates two days of Jewish protest “Elephants Aren't Kosher” at the Republican National Convention with more than 500 people participating

“Elephants Aren't Kosher” protest, 2004

2005–2010

  • JFREJ launches a new campaign for Housing Justice, and is later invited by GOLES (Good Old Lower East Side) to join the campaign for mixed-use housing and business development on the Seward Park Renewal Area.

  • JFREJ rallies in support of 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

  • 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! After years of organizing, including JFREJ's “Jewish Community Stands with Domestic Workers” 300-person forum, New York State passes the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. JFREJ begins working with Domestic Workers United on implementation of the new law through Eldercare Dialogues, Covenant of Care, and joint worker/employer training programs.

Marching for immigrant rights with domestic workers, 2013

2010–2015

  • JFREJ joins with Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) to fight for and win passage of the Community Safety Act

  • JFREJ mobilizes to join Occupy Wall Street in Zuccotti Park, helping to organize Occupy Sukkot.

  • Following the murders of Eric Garner on Staten Island and Michael Brown in Ferguson, JFREJ mobilizes with partners in the CPR coalition. JFREJ participates in massive nightly protests as part of the Black Lives Matter movement. JFREJ supports the development of “Know Your Responsibilities” training and materials for observer roles in documenting discriminatory policing.

  • JFREJ hosts Jews Against Islamophobia teach-ins.

  • JFREJ's Jews of Color Caucus, Mizrahi Caucus, and Working Class Caucus form, bringing voices and leadership of impacted communities from margin to center

Demonstrating with B&H Photo warehouse workers outside the company’s flagship store, 2016

2015–2020

  • In November 2015, JFREJ joins the Laundry Workers Center's B&H Exposed campaign in support of B&H Photo workers who voted to unionize. JFREJ organizes 225 Rabbis and Jewish leaders to rally with workers and demand an end to rampant employer retaliation. The fight continues into 2017, when workers win a $3.22 million lawsuit.

  • In May 2016, the JFREJ Jews of Color Caucus plans, organizes, and hosts the landmark, wildly successful Jews of Color National Convening which brings Jewish People of Color from across the country to build community and advance racial justice.

  • In July and August of 2016, Black members of the JFREJ Jews of Color Caucus lead the JFREJ membership and the New York Jewish community in a Jews4BlackLives Month of Action. Responding to a critical moment in the campaigns to pass the Right To Know Act and demand accountability for the NYPD murder of Ramarley Graham, Black JFREJ members plan a marathon month of four escalating actions in key city council districts. Hundreds of Jews and allies turn out in the largest Jewish mobilization for racial justice ever. At the final action, seven Jews of Color are arrested in a civil disobedience in front of a Manhattan police precinct.

Photo of people marching behind a "Jews Support Black Lives Matter" banner
Marching as #JewsForBlackLives at what was then the largest-ever Jewish mobilization for racial justice, 2016

2015–2020 (continued)

  • November, 2016: The Presidential Election sends shockwaves through our movements, the effects of which we’ve continued to feel — and relentlessly fight back against. That December, a crowd of over 500 Jews and allies gather outside the Zionist Organization of America to protest Trump’s appointment of white supremacist Steve Bannon. This is one of many actions that JFREJ members organized with other front-line communities in the wake of the election and throughout Trump's presidency.

  • Protests against the “Muslim Ban” draw a crowd of thousands to JFK airport. JFREJ member leaders and rabbis lead a havdalah ritual that becomes a march to shut down the terminal. We keep up the pressure until a Brooklyn judge grants an emergency stay, blocking the xenophobic travel ban that night.

  • In April 2017, over 400 New Yorkers join JFREJ for a Seder In The Streets to fight back against the plague of broken windows policing that endangers people of color and immigrants. Inspired by the seder, Muslim New Yorkers host an Iftar in the Streets to celebrate Ramadan and protest Trump administration policies. Pro-Trump activists attempt to disrupt the prayers and meal, and scores of JFREJ members peacefully form an arm-in-arm perimeter, providing physical security and spiritual solidarity for our Muslim partners.

  • JFREJ, Hand in Hand: The Domestic Employers Network, Golden Steps, the National Domestic Worker Alliance, and Caring Across Generations launch the NY Caring Majority, a movement of older adults, people with disabilities, family caregivers, and domestic workers. The coalition advocates for affordable and accessible home care, the creation of quality long-term care jobs, and the expansion of essential social programs to sustain our long-term care system.

  • JFREJ members launch The Jewish Vote, which later becomes JFREJ Action's electoral arm.

  • As part of the Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) coalition, JFREJ helps win passage of the Right to Know Act in the NYC Council.

  • JFREJ releases the groundbreaking Understanding Antisemitism paper.

  • In November of 2018, Amazon announces a plan to build a second headquarters in Long Island City, Queens. JFREJ joins our closest frontline partner organizations, including DRUM, CAAAV, and Make the Road NY, to fight HQ2. The coalition defeats Amazon in February 2019. Read about our victory!

  • In April 2019, following a rise in hate violence, JFREJ convenes the NYC Against Hate coalition to rally for a Hate Violence Prevention Initiative

  • On Tisha B’Av in 2019, joined by partners Mijente and Make the Road NY, more than 1000 JFREJ members and Jews Against ICE descend on Amazon’s midtown bookstore to demand that Amazon Web Services cancel its contracts with Palantir and ICE. 44 protestors are arrested, including 11 rabbis.

  • Pandemic rapid response: When COVID-19 strikes in 2019, JFREJ joins with many other organizations and networks of individuals around the city to rapidly establish mutual aid networks and hotlines, which deliver medicine and meals and help to connect New Yorkers from every background to services they need. With the New York Caring Majority, we organize actions and vigils outside nursing homes across New York State as part of the Nobody Is Disposable campaign

  • JFREJ and partners launch the Let My People Go campaign to bail people out of jail and immigration detention. With the support of over 50 grassroots fundraisers, 2400 donors, and 20 synagogues and Jewish organizations, the campaign raises over $250,000, and helps free New Yorkers from jails and ICE detention across three states.

  • In June 2020 JFREJ helps pass three state bills collectively known as the Safer NY Act. The three bills — the Police STAT Act, the repeal of section 50-a of the New York Civil Rights Law, and a bill codifying a Special Prosecutor for unarmed New Yorkers killed by the police — increase police transparency and create accountability around New Yorkers' most common, and most dangerous, encounters with police.

  • Fueled by the May 2020 uprisings across the country and in New York City following the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade and so many others, JFREJ calls for a cut of at least $1 billion dollars from the NYPD budget. Members create vibrant, inspiring artwork that leads thousands of people through the streets.

  • In June 2020, The Jewish Vote plays a key role in the electing Jamaal Bowman and sending him to Congress.

  • As the 2020 presidential election looms, JFREJ partners with IfNotNow to train more than 1,000 Jews Against Fascism in nonviolent direct action techniques. We celebrate with fellow New Yorkers in the streets when the election is called and Trump loses.

Celebrating in the streets after the defeat of Donald Trump, 2020

Recent Work: 2021-2022

  • In April 2021, after a year of organizing with the Fund Excluded Workers coalition, JFREJ helps secure a first-in-the-nation $2 billion fund for workers excluded from government aid during the pandemic
  • In August 2021, JFREJ launches Unraveling Antisemitism, a cultural organizing project, poster, and and discussion tool based on our groundbreaking Understanding Antisemitism paper.
  • In June 2021, The Jewish Vote wins 18 of the 28 primary races we endorsed in, electing JFREJ member Brad Lander as NYC Comptroller, and sending a powerful bloc of socialists, progressives, and reformers to city council.
  • In December 2021, the NY Caring Majority and JFREJ re-launch the campaign to win Fair Pay for Home Care.
Relaunching the Fair Pay For Home Care campaign, 2021