Once voted “most likely to be Sandra Bullock” by her high school class thanks to her involvement in the arts, Joy Friedman shifted her focus to community organizing in 2004, while a student at Carleton College.
“That was the year that the most famous community organizer, Barack Obama, gave a speech at the DNC that changed his career and, arguably, America,” said Friedman, who is Reform. “I fell in love with the work and wanted to do it with my Jewish community. Congregation-based community organizing felt like the right way to do that.”
Following college, Friedman worked for the Jewish Community Relations Council in Boston, engaging teenagers and adults in community organizing. After moving back home to Kansas, she was recruited to work for the Union for Reform Judaism, eventually moving to its New York office in 2012.
As a senior organizer for Just Congregations, a URJ’s social action initiative, Friedman works primarily for an offshoot group called Rabbis Organizing Rabbis, which brings Reform rabbis together to advocate for such causes as comprehensive immigration reform and racial equality.
For example, during last year’s High Holidays, dozens of rabbis called Immigration and Customs Enforcement headquarters to ask them to stop the deportation of the stepfather of two children with American citizenship.
“After the 50th call from a Reform rabbi, an ICE official asked, ‘Is this person even Jewish?’” recalled Friedman. “I’m proud to work with rabbis who are doing Pikuach Nefesh [saving a life] not just for other Jews, but for all people.”
Ruminating on her passion for social justice, Friedman offered this: “The benefit of growing up as one of the few Jews in Kansas was that I got to define Judaism. People asked me what Jews stood for, how we celebrated our holidays, and why we ate such strange food. I was the resource. I struggled with that at times, but I loved that I got to represent and define my Jewish faith to my secular community.”
Running start: Freidman celebrated her 30th birthday by running a marathon in Sedona, Ariz. and she’s signed up for the New York City Marathon this coming fall.