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“We Were Born For This Moment”
Susannah Goodman was born to be a leader of Detroit Jews for Justice (DJJ).
For starters, she was a child of the Reconstructionist synagogue that ‘gave birth’ to the organization.
As a post-college adult, she returned to become a founding volunteer of this local racial and economic justice organization, a calling forged from her identity as a Jew and as an activist.
“Almost all synagogues have a social action committee, or they do charity or tzedakah. But only some are comfortable with moving from service into systemic change,” notes Susannah. “That’s where the DJJ sweet spot is: moving people from a mindset of, ‘Yes, it’s important work to do service at a shelter. But how do we address housing challenges on a systemic level? How do we make sure that people aren’t displaced? How do we fight for affordable housing?’ And doing so from a Jewish lens is something that has lit me up and given me purpose.”
In April, DJJ was accepted to the UpStart Venture Accelerator, a highly competitive 18-month program that provides training and substantial unrestricted funding to create and activate a plan for sustained growth and impact. In their application, DJJ pitched a two-year initiative, providing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion training for 5 local synagogues, while creating a community of learning.
One month later, following the murder of George Floyd, the ongoing national reckoning with racial injustice reached a crescendo.
“UpStart was willing to take a risk on us, and then the world changed to make [our work] even more important,” says Susannah.
“There’s a new openness to the program than there has been before. Synagogues – and synagogue leaders – are more willing to say that Black Lives Matter without fear, and they are more willing and eager to question some of the other things that they have assumed for a long time.”
Operationally, DJJ also benefits from coaching it receives from UpStart as the organization takes steps toward becoming an independent 501(3).
“Having the support of the UpStart network has been incredibly grounding in this time,” says Susannah, “Between the technical support, the coaching, and the unrestricted funding: those three things really allow us to feel certain that we will weather the storm of 2020. And it’s allowed us to continue to think and plan with vision, when otherwise we would be coming from a place of scarcity.”
For all the unexpected challenges brought on by this year, Susannah is certain of one thing.
“We were born for this moment,” says Susannah of DJJ.
“It’s the Jewish community I wish I had always had, and now I have the opportunity to build and sustain.”
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