“When the shooting in Pittsburgh happened, it was a wakeup call for me as a Jew,” remembers Jan Kushner, 33. “It brought up an aspect of being Jewish in America I hadn’t thought about before” — revealing how her Judaism connected her to the larger struggles against American bigotry. Jan wanted to know more. And so this past February she headed south on National Young Leadership Cabinet’s Civil Rights Mission: a four-day trip to Birmingham, Selma and Montgomery. “This was an easy trip to say yes to,” says Jan.
National Young Leadership Cabinet (NYLC), or “Cabinet,” is The Jewish Federations of North America’s flagship leadership program. Its members are philanthropic-minded 30- and 40-somethings intent on building strong local and global Jewish communities, and are ready to be groomed into leaders. Cabinet members from across the country volunteer together; gather at retreats, conferences and social events; network with Cabinet’s 4000 alumni; and embark on travel for learning experiences through a Jewish lens.
The Civil Rights Mission was powerful for Jan, a first-year Cabinet member. Joined by half of the Philadelphia delegation and a large group of Cabinet members and alumni from across the country, she walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge — where in 1965 a peaceful march for voting rights was attacked by state troopers with batons and tear gas — and met with activist Joanne Bland, who survived that “Bloody Sunday.” She visited the 16th Street Baptist Church, where four young girls were killed in a 1963 bombing. She also had Shabbat dinner at Birmingham’s Temple Beth El, whose members’ support of desegregation had targeted the shul for an attempted dynamite bombing in 1954. In learning about Jews’ long alliance in the African-American struggle, Jan was moved to hear a rabbi speak of our own experience as Egyptian slaves, and of our subsequent obligation to treat others fairly and to protect the vulnerable.
“The trip was very timely, very present, very sobering,” Jan remembers. “I feel very lucky to have participated.” And she’s looking forward to more.