New Jewish Agenda Reunion
May 28-30 2016
Ann Arbor, MI
Reflection on a dozen years of organizing as a progressive voice among Jews, a Jewish voice among progressives.
From conference organizer Clare Kinberg:
New Jewish Agenda was founded in 1980—the year Ronald Reagan was elected and American conservatism moved from the fringes to the mainstream. The organization lasted just 12 years, but it was a bridge for its members: a bridge from the Jews and activists we were in the 50s, 60s and 70s to the Jews and activists we are today.
We have yet to set aside real time to reflect, with each other, on the experience we gained, and the experiences we had and created for others. NJA was a grand experiment in national, grassroots, democratic, multi-issue progressive Jewish organizing that has not been replicated, and to be clear, the organizers of this reunion are not seeking to revive NJA or start something new. We do feel that the plethora of new Jewish progressive organizations that are active today, in 2015, are built on NJA’s bones, yet often unconsciously. We want to create, with this NJA reunion, opportunities for younger activists to learn from our experience, and for us all to explore what our experiences in NJA can bring to the present moment.
NJA was founded during a time when “do it yourself” creative Judaism was taking root (the National Havurah Committee was formed around the same time). NJA chapters hosted shabes dinners, Passover seders, and other holiday observances in which we could practice our politics and our Judaism together.
We were red-diaper babies, anti-Vietnam War, anti-nuclear, Civil Rights, gay and feminist activists. We had roots in the new left, the old left, the Bund, Workman’s Circle, all of the Jewish denominations, academia, and the labor movement. Were influenced by Saul Alinksky, A.D. Gordon, Morris Schappes, Grace Paley, Shulamith Firestone and so many more. We were a bridge.
We were very different from each other and yet we understood each other enough to argue through to the planning of campaigns. We celebrated holidays together, we went on trips, organized protests and presentations. We developed leadership from our ranks. When Agenda ended, we continued our activism and some of us stayed in touch with one another. We were, after all, grassroots activists living in our communities. This reunion will be an opportunity to reconnect more broadly, catch up with each other, and do a bit of passing it on.
Our vision for the reunion is a gathering at the U of Michigan (where our 1985 convention was held) over Memorial Day Weekend 2016, May 28-30. We will spread the word as widely as possible to people who had been members of NJA. We will also invite activists in today’s progressive Jewish organizations. We envision panels, roundtable discussions, art and publication displays, music, meals, Shabbat observances. Interest area groupings, intergenerational workshops.
We are working with the University of Michigan to offer low cost dorm rooms and meeting space. There are organizing costs we need to raise up front and you can expect a fundraising appeal coming soon. In the meantime, save the date, and send us email contact information for others. Look for future emails to come from a googlegroup that will be easier to join and manage.