I am proud to be a Jew and proud to be in the labor movement. Both are important identities for me.
For the last 10 years I have worked professionally in the labor movement but I got active in worker rights when I was in college. As a child I attended Jewish day school and that is where I learned the treasures of my Jewish religion and culture. I attended Brandeis and my Jewish identity grew. After I graduated, I became a fellow at the Jewish Organizing Initiative Network (JOIN) where I worked at the North Shore Labor Council. That was an important step in bringing my Jewish values together with my commitment to the labor movement.
Over the years, I’ve noticed that I sometimes feel uncomfortable as a Jew in the labor movement. I’ve heard my fair share of anti-Semitic comments from workers. At the same time I’ve also felt uncomfortable as a union organizer in the Jewish community, especially when I’ve heard racist comments from Jews. Each time, I am challenged to figure out how to respond and how to do it as a woman who identifies as a Jewish organizer. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not a quiet or fearful person but I am an organizer and I’ve learned that listening, building a respectful relationship and timing are all very important factors in dealing with difficult situations.
I’ve been spending a lot of time lately thinking about new difficult situations I will soon be challenged with in life. In a few weeks, I will become a mother for the first time. My fiancée Zev and I are expecting a son any day now. Zev is black and Jewish and I am white and Jewish and we are both union organizers for SEIU. Our son will be multi-racial and he’ll be Jewish and he’ll grow up with his parents working in the labor movement. He will be born into a complicated world with a complicated and beautiful history from both sides of his heritage.
I want us to be a Jewish family that fights racism and anti-Semitism, for worker rights, for queer rights, and for other progressive values we are passionate about. I also want to listen to my son, to have a respectful relationship with him, and to figure out the right time to start helping him figure out who he is and what he believes in. I recognize that I’m approaching parenting in the same way I’d approach a campaign – as an organizer. In truth, I don’t know any better way.
I will look to the Jewish and Labor communities for examples of how to navigate the tricky terrain of raising a black Jewish son with values that Zev and I are fighting for. I’m hoping each of you will help us by challenging anti-Semitism in the labor community and racism in the Jewish community, so our son can find many places where he knows he is welcomed and respected for all the different parts of himself.
The best place that I have been able to bring together both sides of my identity is the Jewish Labor Committee. It is through this community and the leaders I’ve met here that I’ve been able connect my daily work to my religious beliefs. I hope my son finds a community like I have at the JLC a lot earlier in life. I hope I can find ways to help connect him to other Jews of color being raised to think about the world they live in and how to make it a better place.
If at any time I fear that he is not developing some of my same values, the first place I’ll go for guidance is my community at the Jewish Labor Committee, to learn from my sisters and brothers about how to run a campaign to get him back on track.
Corey Hope Leaffer is the new Organizing Coordinator at 1199SEIU - United Healthcare Workers East MA Division, and a former Jewish Organizing Initiative Fellow. She lives in Jamaica Plain with her fiancée Zev and their dog Hawthorne.