Social justice fellowship expanding to St. Louis

A screenshot from Bend The Arc’s promotional video on YouTube about the Jeremiah Fellowship. The fellowship, which is for Jewish young adults age 22-32, is expanding to St. Louis.

By Xena Wolf, Staff Writer

Bend the Arc, a national Jewish social justice organization, is expanding its 2019 Jeremiah Fellowship to six new cities across the country, including St. Louis.

The Jeremiah Fellowship is a part-time, all-expenses-paid, seven-month activist training program open to self-identified Jews between the ages of 22 to 32. The program was founded in 2005 and has only existed in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area. Since applicants must live in the city in which they intend to be a fellow, starting the new chapters in St. Louis, Philadelphia, Denver, Cleveland, Miami and Long Island, N.Y. will open the door for a wider variety of applicants.

According to National Jeremiah Fellowship Director Carrie Sterns (who is also a St. Louisan), the program allows participants to “dive deeply into the connections between Judaism and social justice…really exploring how our values and our faith and our tradition can strengthen our progressive work.”

In addition to studying Jewish texts in relation to these topics, the fellows receive in-depth training on activism organizing (how to build a base of people, how to effectively lobby, how to strategize a campaign) and education regarding the core issues on which Bend the Arc focuses. These issues include white supremacy, immigrant justice, mass incarceration, and racial justice, among others. “We are at a crossroads in this country right now,” Sterns continued, “and I’m excited to build the power of the diverse, interracial Jewish community as we fight for a vision of what we know America can be.”

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The fellowship kicks off with a three-day retreat that the entire national cohort of fellows attends, where they receive initial training and begin to build their community. Throughout the rest of the program, each city group of five fellows meets collectively with a professional organizer and works directly with partners in the city. They tackle community outreach, devise individual strategic plans for their own work, and attend monthly online trainings. Although they do divide and conquer their projects to some extent, the city group also works as a team, and “there’s a real focus on this being a community effort,” Sterns said.

The program is designed to be part-time; participants are usually also working full-time jobs or enrolled in graduate school. It begins in May and runs through November, with an expected time commitment of approximately 20 to 25 hours per month. Bend the Arc covers costs of the training and of travel, room and board for the opening and closing national retreats. The organization is dedicated to making sure that affordability is not a barrier to any potential applicants.

On the Jeremiah Fellowship website, it notes that Jews from all backgrounds are encouraged to apply regardless of their degree of religious observance, and “Jews from multi-faith families, LGBTQ Jews, and Jews of color [are] encouraged to apply. If you self-identify Jewishly, this community is for you.”

Sterns said Bend the Arc is excited about expanding the fellowship, and noted that St. Louis was chosen in part because it “has been such a hub of young progressive change-making over the last few years in particular.”

“There’s incredible energy there, incredible momentum, really smart strategic organizing already happening across the city, and it just seems like an incredible opportunity to offer some training and skills to contribute to what’s already happening there.”

The specific projects and campaigns that the fellows in each city will tackle are left in large part up to the group, and are individualized to fit the city, Sterns said. While Bend the Arc does have “national priorities and campaigns that we’re working on, primarily around immigrant justice, pushing back against the Trump administration, and white nationalism and criminal justice reform, the folks in St. Louis get to decide together which of those issues they want to focus on and what makes sense in their local context. We don’t want to decide for them because we believe the people who live there are the experts in their own city, and really drive the work.”

Applications for the May-November 2019 Fellowship close on Jan. 15, and the new cohort will be announced in April. For more information about the fellowship and to apply, visit www.jewishpartnership.us/jeremiah.