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Jonah Sampson Boyarin, 34
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JEWISH COMMUNITY36 Under 36 2020

Jonah Sampson Boyarin, 34

‘Life is With People’

What you do:

I am liaison to Jewish communities at the New York City Commission on Human Rights. In addition, I translated Yiddish to English as a Yiddish translation fellow at the Yiddish Book Center, teach Ashkenazi Hebrew pronunciation workshops, co-facilitate men’s feminist groups and am a member of the anti-Semitism working group at Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ).

Unexpected fun fact:

I was the K-3rd grade state chess champion in 1994, and I’m writing a post-apocalyptic Jewish science fiction novel.

Quote you live by:

“Bread and roses.” 

Describe how your project/initiative/position came to be:

I co-facilitated a workshop about anti-Semitism and white supremacy on behalf of JFREJ for the New York City Commission on Human Rights. When the position came open a few months later, my predecessor recruited me for the role. It was the first time I had considered working for city government. The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. I love New York City; I was born and raised here. I love the feeling here that “life is with people.”

How does your Jewish identity/Jewish values influence the work that you do?

I grew up going to shul in the Lower East Side with poor and working-class immigrants from the Old Country. Their culture was deep, rich, frank, wry, argumentative, filled with Torah and Yiddish. It was alive; it had long ago been devastated by the Holocaust, and since then largely abandoned by mainstream Jewry for the safer life afforded by assimilation into whiteness and middle-class culture. The shuls I grew up in were crumbling, mouldering, part of the overall devastation caused by white flight in the ’70s from the Lower East Side and divestment of private and public services from an increasingly Puerto Rican neighborhood. Yet the life inside was vibrant, homey, alive; above all, we showed up every week knowing we needed Yiddishkeit, and we needed each other.

How does your Jewish story inform your work?

Jewish cultures are deep and beautiful, worth remembering, enacting and making anew. The quality of Jewish communal life in NYC is just as much determined by fair and accessible housing prices as it is by inner cultural development. Widespread gentrification and displacement devastates and impoverishes working-class black and brown communities. Though we’re all affected differently, we so need to extend different priorities and types of solidarity to one another; the only way out of this mess is together.

Best advice you received:

“In a full life, there is enough time for everything — just not all at once.”

Follow Me: @JonahNYC

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