Organizations and Civic Causes

Through organization life, Brooklyn Jews have been heavily involved as activists and advocates of important political issues, especially where it concerns human rights, equality and religious freedom.

By Sarina Roffe
Just as the Brooklyn’s Jews are diverse in the lands of ancestral origin, languages, and cultures, so too are the causes they embrace. Following the Jewish concepts of Tikkun olam, making the world a better place, and chesed, acts of loving-kindness, many Brooklyn Jews have historically joined with co-religionists around the world, establishing organizations to address a variety of important causes. These causes have included civil rights, women’s rights, health issues, the rights of immigrants and refugees, and the pursuit of Zionism, to name just a few. Brooklyn Jews have made significant contributions to the human welfare of those less fortunate, whether Jews or all humanity, through organizational life. In the 1930, many Jews supported radical politics, debating varieties and policies of communism, socialism, Labor Zionism, religious Zionism and Yiddishism. In contrast, in the early 21st century, many Orthodox and Hassidic Jews support socially conservative4 causes.

Brooklyn Jewish women have been active in charitable and volunteer organizations, supporting groups such as Hadassah, B’nai Brith, ORT, Youth Aliyah, AMIT, Na’amat, (formerly, Pioneer Women), the National Council of Jewish women, ) to name a few.
During World War II, the Sephardic community formed a women’s league to support soldiers from their community who were deployed overseas.

In the 1960s and 1970s, many liberal Brooklyn Jews embraced the American Civil Rights Movement and the work of Martin Luther King, Jr. Some travelled to the southern US to work as activists for the cause. Anti-Semitism was still prevalent in the United States, and many Jews felt that fighting for equality for blacks would lead to equality for all, including Jews. High school and college students joined marches and protests. Activist Jewish students formed Students for a Democratic Society at Brooklyn College, protesting and taking over the college’s administrative offices in the 1960s. Author Melanie Kay/Kantrowitz was one of many civil rights activists from Brooklyn and she continues her activism as a strong supporter of feminist causes. In 1990, she acted as a founding director for Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, a progressive Jewish organization focused mostly on anti-racist work and issues of economic justice.

Zionism in its many varieties has been an important Jewish cause that many Brooklyn Jews debated and supported, especially during the first half of the 20th century. The Blue Boxes of the Jewish National Fund appeared in homes, organizations and shops, as Jews collected spare coins to buy land in Eretz Israel and planted trees to green the land. In the latter 20th century other fervently supported causes included the religious rights of Jews in the Former Soviet Union.

Brooklyn is also the home or birthplace of many federal elected officials (US Senators, Charles Schumer, Barbara Boxer, Bernie Sanders, and Norman Coleman) and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Through organization life, Brooklyn Jews have been heavily involved as activists and advocates of important political issues, especially where it concerns human rights, equality and religious freedom.