Our History

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.”

In the thirty years that followed that first living room meeting, JFREJ has changed the landscape of the Jewish community, 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.

Fueled by our commitment to economic justice, JFREJ has joined campaigns for housing justice, supported employees unionizing at restaurants and kosher food factories, stood with B&H Photo/Video warehouse workers fighting for their rights, and organized alongside the domestic workers who passed the New York State Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in 2010, and the Queens residents who successfully battled to keep Amazon.com’s HQ2 out of Long Island City. Today, our movement of The Caring Majority is fighting for universal health care, including universal long term care, and advancing our vision for a feminist economy in which care work is valued and protected, and everyone has access to the care they need.

From JFREJ’s first event, which welcomed Nelson Mandela to New York after his release from prison, JFREJ has fought for racial justice. After the acquittal of the NYPD officers who murdered Amadou Diallo in 1999, JFREJ participated in a day of protest leading to the arrest of over 120 Jews, including 13 rabbis, on the steps of City Hall. Since then, we have worked tirelessly to hold the NYPD accountable and end police violence. JFREJ was part of the anti-Stop & Frisk campaign that led to the victory in the Floyd lawsuit, the passage of the Community Safety Act in 2013, (including the City Council’s thrilling override of Mayor Bloomberg’s veto) and the Right To Know Act in 2018. Our Jews4BlackLives actions have demonstrated steadfast Jewish solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, and with the families of New Yorkers killed by the NYPD.

Throughout JFREJ’s history, we have consistently shown up for immigrants. In 2006, JFREJ joined the nationwide protests against right-wing anti-immigrant legislation. After the election of Donald Trump, JFREJ was one of the first organizations to show up at JFK airport to protest the Muslim Ban and we helped to start Never Again Action, which has led the Jewish community in the fight to abolish ICE, and end family separation.

JFREJ has had an extraordinary impact on the Jewish community, locally and throughout the country. We helped to seed Tzedek Lab, Never Again Action, Ammud, Jews Against White Nationalism, and other groundbreaking initiatives that have breathed new life into the Jewish left. Beginning with 2015’s Black Lives Matter haggadah supplement and the Jews of Color National Convening, we’ve led the community in organizing Jews of Color and Mizrahi & Sephardi Jews to fight for a seat at the table within the Jewish community, and to recognize their leadership in movements for racial & ethnic justice everywhere. Following the resurgence of the white nationalist movement in 2016, we published the seminal progressive guide to antisemitism, led the effort to educate our community and our movement partners about this complex issue, and created a first-of-its-kind coalition to respond to rising hate violence in our city.

More recently, JFREJ has added richness and revolution to the Jewish ritual calendar, with our annual radical Purimspiel (produced in partnership with Jenny Romaine and the Aftselakhis Spectacle Committee), our Shavuot for Black Lives, 40 Days of Teshuvah, and our Juneteenth and Mimouna celebrations. In 2020, JFREJ responded to the COVID crisis, rapidly mobilizing our members for mutual aid, and organizing to protect nursing home residents and workers and free people from COVID-infested immigration detention centers and jails. The nationwide uprising after the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others, helped give JFREJ and our partners the momentum we needed to pass the Safer NY Act, which repealed 50a, the NY state law that hid police misconduct records from the public. JFREJ was at the forefront of the spring 2020 campaign to defund the NYPD by at least $1 billion, and invest in the communities of color hardest hit by COVID-19. We continue to respond to the COVID crisis, working to get desperately needed resources to excluded workers, and protect homeless New Yorkers from being evicted from their hotel rooms. We continue to work towards abolishing the carceral state and the NYPD, and replacing them with public safety institutions that are accountable to the communities they serve, and are aligned with our values and vision for a New York City where everyone thrives.

Learn more about the history of JFREJ Community here.

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

2010–2015

  • JFREJ organizes with partner organizations in the Black Lives Matter movement

  • Direct implementation of the Domestic Worker Bill of Rights through Eldercare Dialogues, Covenant of Care, and joint worker/employer training programs

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

  • Development of “Know Your Responsibilities” training and materials for observer roles in documenting discriminatory policing

  • Jews Against Islamophobia Teach-Ins

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

Recent History: 2015–2020

  • 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 police 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.

  • November, 2016: The Presidential Election sends shockwaves through our movements, the effects of which we’ve continued to feel — and relentlessly fight back against — even beyond 2020.

  • 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 organize with other front-line communities in the wake of the election, continuing through to 2020.

  • 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.

  • Seder in the Streets: On April 13th of 2017, over 400 New Yorkers join us to fight back against the plague of “broken windows policing” that particularly endangers people of color and immigrants. Part ritual, part press conference, part performance, and part civil disobedience, the #SederInTheStreets makes use of powerful symbols, ritual and music as a community to call for true safety and sanctuary for all New Yorkers

  • Trained JFREJ members provide security for an Iftar in the Streets outside of Trump Tower, organized by mPower Change and NY Immigrant Action Fund. Inspired by the JFREJ Seder in the Streets, Muslim New Yorkers 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 seniors, people with disabilities, family caregivers, and domestic workers, the Caring Majority 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. Delegations of JFREJ members and fellow coalition members begin traveling together to Albany in January before officially launching the campaign in June. Throughout 2017, we hold grassroots, kitchen-table conversations to bring together directly affected communities across New York State.

  • In September of 2017, Care, a groundbreaking documentary about care work is broadcast nationally. Directed by JFREJ member Deirdre Fishel, Care reveals the hidden world of in-home elder care. In addition to shining a spotlight on care workers and their families, the film also spotlights the early stages of JFREJ’s organizing of seniors and caregivers. JFREJ organizes more than 15 screenings of Care in synagogues, senior centers, and members’ homes.

  • In November of 2018, Amazon announces that they're planning to build a second headquarters in Long Island City, Queens. Given the role that Amazon and other tech giants have been playing in providing facial recognition and other surveillance technology to ICE and law enforcement agencies, as well as the economic impact of Amazon's predatory business model, JFREJ joins our closest frontline partner organizations, including DRUM, CAAAV, and Make the Road NY, to fight HQ2. And then in February, we beat Amazon! Our victory proves that people power can defeat even the largest corporation, and that we won’t give up our city — and our democracy — without a fight.

  • Our June 20th, 2019 public forum kicks off We Are Here, a six month process of study and action for members of JFREJ and The Jewish Vote. In partnership with our allies, our goal is to take stock of the last few years and prepare for 2020 by building strategic alignment and clarity for our organization. The June forum is followed by a four-session study course with the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research on political and social theory for JFREJ staff, board and select member-leaders. In the fall of 2019, we initiate a wildly popular series of member-led neighborhood-based reading and discussion groups all across New York City.

  • On Tisha B’Av 2019, joined by our partners Mijente and Make the Road NY, more than 1000 members of our extended community descend on Amazon’s midtown bookstore to demand that Amazon Web Services cancel its contracts with Palantir and ICE. ICE uses Amazon and Palantir’s database technology to target immigrants for raids and deportation. After a silent march through Manhattan to the bookstore, members lead a two-hour Tisha B’Av service in the middle of the Amazon store, reading from Lamentations, reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish for the 25 people who had died in ICE custody and sharing the testimonies of immigrants detained in Trump’s concentration camps. “We mourn the destruction of all things holy on the Jewish observance of Tisha b’Av,” Sharon Kleinbaum, D.C., senior rabbi with CBST, wrote in the statement. “This current administration’s attacks on immigrants, Muslims, Jews, people of color, and so many others are likewise horrific destruction of holiness. CBST is proud to stand with all those suffering today and against the evil of the camps, ICE policies and the separation of families. Never Again is Now.” 44 protestors are arrested in protest, including a minyan of 11 rabbis. So many members of our community participate in this peaceful civil disobedience that the police are forced to summon a bus to haul them away.

  • Marking the one year anniversary of the white nationalist massacre of Jews at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, JFREJ members gather at 7am on Friday, October 25th and march to the midtown headquarters of FOX News. We target FOX in order to condemn their willingness to be a platform for white nationalist ideology. FOX has given airtime to antisemitic George Soros conspiracy theories, pushed out a deluge of pro-Trump propaganda that vilifies immigrants and refugees, and conspired in the weaponization of antisemitism in order to fracture the progressive left. We light Yahrzeit candles, recite prayers, and read the names of those who were killed at the Tree of Life synagogue — we will never forget, and we won’t rest until the institutions that enable white nationalism are held accountable for their role in spreading and legitimizing hate.

2020 Year in Review

January 2020: Beit Midrash

  • As part of our We Are Here process of study and learning, we gathered at the Harlem JCC to explore the meaning and power at the intersections of Judaism and our progressive political project: What is our personal relationship to organizing as Leftist Jews? What are we curious about, challenged by, and wanting to explore? How is our Jewishness impacted and inspired by our organizing, and vice versa, if at all? What are the Jewish offerings to this political moment, and to our movements, and vice versa?
Canvassing at the Day Against Hate

February 2020: Day Against Hate

  • On February 13, 2019, JFREJ led the eight other community organizations in the NYC Against Hate coalition in a citywide Day Against Hate — a response to hate violence on a scale that we’ve never attempted before. The NYC Against Hate team organized an incredible twenty-five Day Against Hate events all across New York City.

Pandemic rapid response

  • March – Ongoing: LMPG
  • March – Ongoing: Mutual Aid
    • When COVID struck, the New York Caring Majority engaged a massive effort to reach out to all of our vulnerable members, recruiting dozens of outreach volunteers, hosting weekly support calls, and deploying calls to close to 2,000 seniors and vulnerable members of the community. We joined with many other organizations and networks of individuals around the City to rapidly stand-up mutual aid networks and hotlines, which delivered medicine and meals, and helped to connect New Yorkers from every background to the services they needed.
  • March – Ongoing: Nobody is Disposable/You Are Essential To Me
    • “Nobody is disposable” was the cry from the vulnerable populations which were targeted by triage plans during this pandemic — the people who have been asked to sacrifice their lives for Wall Street, and to excuse incompetent emergency response systems that leave them marginalized or forgotten. JFREJ and the New York Caring Majority organized actions and vigils outside nursing homes across New York State as part of the #NobodyIsDisposable campaign
  • May 2020: Naming The Lost
    • "Naming The Lost" brought together survivors, community activists, artists and faith leaders for a 24-hour reading of names to honor the COVID-19 dead. People who’ve lost a loved one to the Coronavirus or are part of communities most impacted — together with some special guests — read as many names as possible and available of those who have died from the virus.

June 2020: A Green New Deal for Care

  • Naomi Klein and Ai-jen Poo joined the New York Caring Majority in releasing a video and platform: a Green New Deal for Care. The Green New Deal aims to build a safer, fairer society, and that means dismantling systemic racism and inequality. When domestic and agricultural workers were excluded from key parts of the original New Deal, it was a strategy to exclude Black people — in particular, the Black women who did and still do so much crucial care work. This time, we must do the opposite, and put care work, racial justice, and feminism at the center of a new economy. We can choose a new path forward. Through large-scale investment, we can transform home care jobs into high-quality, family-sustaining jobs that will strengthen our communities and improve New York’s health and economic future.

June 2020: Repeal 50a & the Safer NY Act

  • Building on years of organizing across New York City and New York State, we celebrated a huge victory in Albany — the winning of three 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.
A march for #NYCBudgetJustice

May 2020: NYC Budget Justice

  • Fueled by the May uprisings across the country and in New York City following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade and others, we called for a cut of at least $1 billion dollars from the NYPD budget, returning the NYPD to 2014 levels of financing, and we called for investing that money into the programs and agencies that serve the New Yorkers most hard-hit by the COVID-19 crisis. JFREJ members made over three thousand calls to City Council members though our phone banking form alone. JFREJ members created vibrant, inspiring artwork that led thousands of people through the streets.

June 2020: Jamaal Bowman & other electoral victories

  • Jamaal Bowman will be heading to congress, in part because of Jews for Jamaal and their incredible work. These dedicated members of The Jewish Vote knocked on hundreds of doors, made thousands of calls, and stood up to vicious fearmongering attacks from the right in order to ensure Jamaal’s historic win. Many of The Jewish Vote's other fantastic progressive endorsees won reelection, and our efforts contributed to the Working Families Party remaining on the ballot in New York — a blow to Governor Cuomo and a win for democracy.

July 2020: Fund Excluded Workers

  • In the past months, as millions have lost their jobs, undocumented workers and other workers in the cash economy have been excluded from state unemployment and stimulus payments. The Fund Excluded Workers campaign is calling on the state legislature to convene and pass a bill that would create $5.5 billion by taxing billionaires, and establish a $3.5 billion emergency survival income fund for excluded workers across the state of New York. A massive team effort coordinated by JFREJ-ers provided safety/marshalling and community care for #FundExcludedWorkers activists.
40 Days of Teshuvah at Grand Army Plaza

July 2020: 40 Days of Teshuvah

  • For 40 days JFREJ members came together at sunset, both communally at Grand Army Plaza and individually in our backyards and rooftops, to blow the shofar and mourn the degradation and destruction of Black communities, confessing the ways in which we participate and perpetuate racism. These 40 days culminated with Tisha B’av, and we commemorated this year’s Tisha B’av to specifically mourn the destruction of Black communities in these 400 years of ongoing oppression.

August 2020: Slowdown & We Are Here

  • This year, JFREJ completed its course of internal review and study, called We Are Here, which gathered, compiled and synthesized concerns from members about how the organization should be structured, and internalized learnings about the emerging political landscape and our role in it. This fall, we began a "slowdown" period with reduced programming to allow our staff, board and members to develop new strategies and structures based on the We Are Here learnings, and create more clarity, transparency, and consistency for JFREJ members.
Jews Against Fascism at an election defense march. Photo by Gili Getz (http://giligetz.com/)

October 2020: Election Defenders & Jews Against Fascism

  • With the president and far-right groups making unprecedented and explicit threats to disrupt the November election, JFREJers signed up to become Election Defenders. They took part in trainings and other important activities vital to ensuring our democracy works, and we count every vote. In addition, in the week before the election, Jews Against Fascism trained more than 1,000 people in nonviolent direct action techniques.