Reflections on the first Jewish Activism Summer School in Berlin
By Activist-in-residence Maia Ipp
I’ve been living in Krakow for a year, and it’s a strange time to be an American abroad—to have experienced the shock of the election and everything that’s happened since from afar, to be absent from my communities back home witnessing and fighting the ugly nationalism of the Trump administration and their supporters in the Alt-Right. This year ushered in bad news from almost all sides, and I joined my Polish friends and colleagues in their protests against the far-right government’s attack on civil liberties and democratic processes there. But being an activist far from home meant I didn’t really have shared spaces to dialogue or study with like-minded peers.
Fortunately, this spring I met Amira Mintz-Morgenthau during a trip to Berlin, and first heard about the Jewish Activism Summer School, which she coordinates. An initiative designed and led by Professor Jonathan Schorsch out of Potsdam University, the program was designed to study and inspire social action through Jewish text study, site visits, and ritual practice. Jonathan invited me to join as an Activist-in-Residence—to participate in the seminar alongside the other students, and to teach a workshop presenting my own work as a facilitator of intercultural dialogue.
When it comes to activism, what do Jewish traditions and texts ask of us? For the past three weeks, 16 of us approached this question with the guidance of faculty that included rabbis, scholars, and activists who presented their own campaigns. The student cohort was a dynamic mixture of undergrads, graduate students, and young professionals from Mexico, Argentina, Germany, Turkey, the U.S., and Israel. I think it’s fair to say we all fall on the left side of the political spectrum, but there was a rich diversity of positions and perspectives.
For me as an American, it was especially poignant to be part of JASS when the images and news from Charlottesville started appearing, and when we understood that protester Heather Heyer had been killed. A few of us organized an informal learning session for the group so we could share knowledge to try to understand better what had happened, and to talk about what we can do to counter the emboldened voices of the far-right in the U.S. and elsewhere. During this session and the others, it was meaningful and illuminating to explore questions we often don’t get time or resources to address together: how can Jews build meaningful relationships and coalitions with non-Jewish people of color, Muslims, and other targeted populations? What do traditional Jewish texts say about a commitment to justice, and how to achieve it? What effective models do we have for social and political movements? I’m leaving JASS with new and more refined questions ignited. This inaugural session marked an important addition to the field of Jewish programming and education, and I can’t imagine it arriving at a more necessary time.
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