As director of grassroots and community engagement for the Orthodox Union’s Teach NYS, Annie Watman helps mobilize Jewish day school parents and educators to lobby lawmakers on behalf of more affordable tuition. It’s an interesting career path for someone who grew up secular and attended public school.
“It’s a little cliché, but when I went on Birthright, I experienced that ‘aha’ moment where I wanted to further explore my Jewish identity,” she said. “It spurred me to become involved with Jewish life at NYU, which had a thriving Orthodox community. I became more observant, and active in various Jewish groups on campus and student political clubs such as the College Republicans.”
It was the Midwestern Christian president of the College Republicans who advised Watman to merge her newfound Jewish identity and political activism through an internship at AIPAC. Watman stayed in a series of full-time positions through 2017.
“Working at AIPAC showed me that if we don’t advocate for Israel, no one else would, and the same for Jewish education,” she said. “There’s no out-of-the-box solution to education affordability. We simply need to advocate for ourselves to get results.”
Since joining Teach NYS in September 2017, Watman has helped secure major increases in funding for security and STEM education in New York’s nonpublic schools, and organized a rally on the steps of City Hall to advocate for kosher and halal food to be included in the city’s free lunch program.
Advocacy work is an uphill battle sometimes; Watman notes much apathy among her contemporaries. “If there’s a problem, I don’t want to talk about it. I want to do something about it.”
Among the things the average time-strapped parent can do is vote, send action emails, and speak to their elected officials, Watman said.
Watman’s professional motivation is also personal. “It scares me when I see my peers say they’re having fewer children because of yeshiva tuition,” she said. “Many of my family members have either assimilated or intermarried, and my husband has relatives who were killed in the Holocaust. Nobody should be limiting the number of children they have because of the costs associated with educating them Jewishly.”
Speeding towards the Olympics: As a child and teen, Watman was a speed skater on the pathway to the Olympics, but chose to attend college instead.