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September 4, 2015 | 20th Elul 5775

Rabbi Jonah Pesner of the URJ to be Honored with the Tekiah Social Justice Award

Annette Powers

New York, NY, April 23, 2012 - On April 29 and 30, 200 activists, rabbis, and Jewish communal leaders from 50 organizations will gather in New York City for a National Summit hosted by the Jewish Organizing Institute and Network for Justice (JOIN for Justice). At the Summit's closing assembly, Rabbi Jonah Pesner, Senior Vice President of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), founding director of the URJ's Just Congregations, and the founding Board Chair of JOIN for Justice, will be honored with the Tekiah Social Justice Award.

The Summit will offer young leaders and activists from around the country an opportunity to hone their organizing skills, network across fields and denominations, and articulate their vision for advancing social justice in the Jewish community and beyond. Summit workshops about strategies for building Jewish young adult power; creating Jewish social justice rituals; and advancing digital organizing for social justice will be led by seasoned organizers including Simon Greer, President and CEO of the Nathan Cummings Foundation; Richard Kirsch, author of Fighting for Our Health and leader of the Health Care Action Network (HCAN); and Ai-jen Poo, Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and nominee to Time Magazine's poll of 100 most influential people.

"Organizing is a vital tool for effecting social change and for cultivating the next generation of Jewish leaders," said Karla Van Praag, executive director of JOIN for Justice. "The future of the Jewish community and our ability to fulfill our collective responsibility to work for justice depends on equipping young leaders with the training they need to be powerful community organizers."

JOIN for Justice, founded in December 2011 as a joint venture between the Jewish Organizing Initiative and Bend the Arc (formerly known as the Progressive Jewish Alliance & Jewish Funds for Justice), has two flagship programs: the Jewish Organizing Fellowship and The Seminary Leadership Project. The Jewish Organizing Fellowship is a highly competitive, paid 12-month fellowship for Jewish young adults to serve as full-time organizers at social justice organizations while also engaging in intensive Jewish learning. The Seminary Leadership Project trains rabbinical students across the denominational spectrum to become effective community organizers.

"The Jewish Organizing Fellowship has taught me that I can be more effective in the world as a positive agent of change if I know my own story, my People's history, and my own heritage," said fellowship alumna, Shoshana Friedman.

Rabbi Pesner, who has been a pioneer in the field of Jewish organizing and was the founding director of Just Congregations, the groundbreaking community organizing effort of the URJ, agrees. "The talent pool to populate the field of organizing is certainly growing, but it still needs to dramatically expand," Pesner explained. "We need a generation of idealistic young people--rabbinical students, activists, and educators alike--to choose organizing as a meaningful personal and professional endeavor. I'm committed to having the work of organizers be understood and valued as a core asset to Jewish communal life and to advancing social justice."

During his 20 year career, Rabbi Pesner has engaged thousands of synagogue congregants to join together in successful campaigns for health care access, affordable housing, public education, gay and lesbian rights, and rights for nursing care workers. Pesner led the "Affordable Care Today!" coalition that successfully secured health care for more than half a million uninsured residents of Massachusetts. In 2006, Pesner founded Just Congregations to inspire and train clergy and members of Reform congregations to act across lines of faith, class, and race, and address the root causes of economic and social injustice in America.

"It is such a privilege to receive the Tekiah Social Justice Award," said Rabbi Pesner. "During an election year when so much of our future is at stake, and at a time when the Jewish community is hungry to make a difference, I am thrilled to be participating in this National Summit with so many impassioned young Jews."

JOIN for Justice's National Summit will take place on April 29 and 30 at Hebrew Union College- Jewish Institute of Religion: One West 4th Street, New York, NY 10012. More information is at:

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