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Join Us in Building Connections for Social Change

Posted on Tuesday, September 12, 2017 by Sharon Avraham-Weiss, Mike Gildesgame, David Rosenn and Stuart Rossman

Water is not a consumer good.  It is a fundamental right.  In 2010, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) received an influx of complaints from families who were disconnected from their water supply.  Tens of thousands of families who were unable to keep up with their steep water bills were gradually being stripped of their right to water.

Over the past three decades, the Israeli government has yielded responsibility of public services to the hands of the market forces, and as a result, a long list of public services were privatized.  This process of accelerated privatization subsequently created widespread insolvency and hindered access to the right to water.  While under the government's supervision, struggling families were able to receive assistance in managing debt.  Corporations now responsible for managing water refuse to assist these families, irrespective of their economic circumstances.

ACRI succeeded in reforming this unjust practice by applying a comprehensive, multi-faceted approach for four years.  This included an in-depth analysis of the relevant stakeholders, recruiting partners in the campaign, formulating a proposal for new policy, contacting decision makers, intensive media outreach, legal proceedings and social activism.

This case study is one of the many published in the Wexner initiative “Building Connections for Social Change,” a resource organized by Wexner alumni in September 2016 as a result of meeting and agreeing to collaborate with one another at the Wexner Summit on Social Justice.  Leveraging the power of the Wexner network for social change, the group's goal is to connect social change activists to share case studies and learn from the Wexner community's experience.  The authors of these studies will be available for consultation and mentoring in order to amplify impact and learn from mistakes.

The case studies are vast in content and methodology, and can therefore serve a wide range of actions and initiatives.  For example, while ACRI's example focuses on social change through litigation and advocacy, the SparkShare case focuses on youth empowerment through education, employment, support networks and community engagement.  SparkShare, an initiative focused on at-risk-youth in Boston, is still in its early stages of visioning and therefore has a wealth of relevant experience to share with other budding initiatives within the Wexner community. 

Another case study presents best practices on campaigning from T’ruah: the Rabbinic Call for Human Rights.  This case focuses on T'ruah's public campaign to pressure the Jewish National Fund – USA, a major fundraising body that raises around $100 million a year, to be transparent about their spending in Israel and to encourage American Jews to be more critical about their donations.  T’ruah successfully achieved many of these goals through a campaign aimed at policy change raising awareness of an issue, and shifting the way the American Jewish community thinks about the power and meaning of its philanthropic support to Israel.  This case illustrates how careful selection of a target, strategic alignment of the main voices in the campaign (in this case rabbis and cantors) and use of humor can all contribute to a successful outcome.

ReachOut! is a program created by the Jewish Community Relations Council (“JCRC”) of Boston in 2010 for the purpose of engaging Jewish young adults in their 20s and 30s in meaningful community service.  The JCRC believed that participation in such service could become a transformative rite of passage for an age cohort that had been difficult to connect with the organized Jewish community.  ReachOut! provides them with the opportunity to participate in intensive periods of significant ongoing volunteering and learning through the Jewish community, encourage each participant to form a lifelong commitment to community service that is integrally connected with their Jewish identity.  ReachOut! quickly has become a recognized, sustainable project within the Boston JCRC’s overall service initiatives and, particularly, its young adult social justice program.   It has met and exceeded its goals of attracting, engaging and retaining Jewish Young Adults as increasingly important participants in the organized Jewish community and its potential future leadership. 

The case studies described above serve as seeds in a growing bank of case studies that will assist other social justice practitioners engaged in beginning or enhancing social justice activities in their communities.  We invite you, members of the Wexner community, to join us in utilizing and building this resource.

To view the case studies or start a conversation about them with other members of the Wexner community, click one of the links below:

  1. ReachOut!
  2. Where's George? An online Campaign to Pressure JNF to Provide Transparency About Its Funding
  3. SparkShare
  4. Best Practices: Disconnection of Water Supply Due to Financial Hardships

To write and contribute your own case study, please email it to Adam Reiss.

The authors of this blog are the members of the Wexner Summit Social Justice Group "Building Connections for Social Change." 

Sharon Avraham-Weiss, an alum of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship (Class 23), is the Executive Director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI).  Previously, as a staff attorney at ACRI, she represented ACRI in such landmark cases as the Family Unification petition, the Guaranteed Minimal Income (Dignified Existence) petition, and the Lands Distribution petition.  Sharon previously served as the Tel Aviv and Central Israel Region Commissioner of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in the Ministry of Economy where she was responsible for developing, implementing and overseeing a non-discriminatory policy for employers and employees in the private and public sectors. Sharon has been featured in “The Marker” newspaper as one of the top ten most influential people working for social change and in “Ha’Aretz” when Israel turned 66, as one of 66 prominent women leaders in Israel.  Sharon holds an MPA from Harvard Kennedy School where she was a Wexner fellow, an LLM magna cum laude from Tel Aviv University and LLB and BS degrees from the Hebrew University. 

Mike Gildesgame, an alum of the Wexner Heritage Program (Boston 2), has 30 years of experience in natural resources project management and program administration.  Mike has led multi-disciplinary professional teams, developing and implementing natural resource management policies and programs; managed and evaluated domestic and international environmental programs and projects; and facilitated group discussions to resolve complex environmental problems and achieve consensus on community and statewide concerns.  Mike is also a practicing mediator in Boston area courts.

Rabbi David Rosenn, an alum of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship (Class 5), is the Executive Director at the Hebrew Free Loan Society, a micro-finance organization that provides low-income New Yorkers with access to fair and affordable credit.  Previously, David served as Executive Vice President at the New Israel Fund, where he led the organization's operations in North America and worked with NIF's Board and senior staff to set and execute strategy for the organization overall.  David also served for 13 years as the founder and Executive Director at AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps.  David was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1997.  He believes social change is inspired and sustained when people feel themselves to be members of communities of moral courage and spiritual strength, and his work is centered around efforts to build, encourage and sustain Jewish participation in such communities.  David is married to WGF Alum Rabbi Jennie Rosenn (Class 4) and they live on the Upper West Side of Manhattan with their sons, Benjamin and Isaiah.

 Stuart Rossman, an alum of the Wexner Heritage Program (Boston 1), is a staff attorney at the National Consumer Law Center (“NCLC”) and has served as its Director of Litigation since 1999. Stuart is the co-editor of the 8th Edition of the NCLC Consumer Class Actions manual and coordinates NCLC’s Consumer Class Action Symposium. After 13 years of private trial practice in Boston, Stuart served as Chief of the Trial Division and Chief of the Business and Labor Protection Bureau at the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office . As founding chairman of the Boston Bar Association (BBA) Young Lawyers Section, he co-authored and edited a handbook on the rights of the homeless in Massachusetts, which received the American Bar Association’s Young Lawyer’s Division Award of Achievement. Stuart currently serves as a member of the Retention Task Force of the Massachusetts Diversity Coalition and as the Co-Chair of the Massachusetts Legal Services Advocacy Coordination Committee. Since 1992 he has been a member of the adjunct faculty at the Northeastern University School of Law, where he teaches courses in Civil Trial Advocacy, and was appointed the 2010 Givelber Distinguished Lecturer on Public Interest Law. He also is a member of the adjunct faculty at the Suffolk University School of Law and the University of Michigan School of Law.  In 2016 Stuart became the second recipient of the JCRC of Greater Boston's Nancy K, Kaufman Award for Excellence in Volunteer Leadership.