by Christine Stone, board director
Last week, I was among ten NCJW board members who took part in a White House Community Leaders Briefing. We joined 160 grassroots leaders of the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable, a collaboration of 21 organizations working to elevate the role of social justice in the Jewish community.
We started at the National Press Club. The room buzzed with excitement. We knew the day held great opportunities to introduce ourselves, our organizations, and the communities we represent to senior members of the administration. But first, I had the honor of introducing our organization to a packed room of men and women who, like me, are committed to justice and equality.
“Hi,” I said. “My name is Christine Stone. I am a national board member of the National Council of Jewish Women, the largest progressive Jewish women’s organization. Our 90,000 members and supporters have been at the forefront of social change for over a century.” I sat back down as the other organizations introduced themselves and then looked to NCJW CEO Nancy K. Kaufman. As a co-founder of the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable, she was getting ready to take the podium to address the room. I thought to myself, this is what it is like to have a seat at the table.
Soon we were on the move, walking across Lafayette Park to the White House Conference Center. We broke into groups to learn from staff representing the Department of Education, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the US Department of Agriculture. I attended the session on housing, led by General Counsel of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, Helen Kanovsky. Ms. Kanovsky spoke frankly about the difficulties being faced by Americans when it comes to housing. She shared her appreciation of our visit and recognized our communities’ challenges and concerns. Other NCJW leaders in the education, healthcare, and food justice briefings later mentioned to me how informative their sessions were as well, and the privilege they felt to advocate for our issues.
After lunch, our meetings continued at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. We were welcomed by Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama, Valerie Jarrett. Acting Secretary of Commerce and Under Secretary for Economic Affairs Dr. Rebecca Blank briefed us on the state of the US economy, putting into perspective the discussions on the debt ceiling and our nation’s economic future. We also heard from Deputy Assistant to the President and Counselor for Strategic Engagement to the Senior Advisor, Michael Strautmanis; as well as Brian Bond and Danielle Borrin from the Office of Public Engagement; and Tina Tchen, Assistant to the President, Chief of Staff to the First Lady, and Executive Director of the White House Council of Women and Girls.
A listening session with Jon Carson, Director of the Office of Public Engagement, pulled the day together. While a variety of faith-based organizations had the opportunity to have their positions heard by the administration, it was clear that there is indeed a powerful collective voice among the American Jewish community to advance a social justice agenda on the national and global stage.
When I left the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, I should have been exhausted. Instead, I felt reinvigorated. The time spent with my NCJW sisters and our incredible staff always renews my spirit to fulfill our mission, to strive for social justice by improving the quality of life for women, children, and families, and by safeguarding individual rights and freedoms.