An “Ethnography” of Social Justice

On the second day of my internship at Avodah, I helped organize the final event of the organization’s New York Fellowship Program. The main goal of this social justice initiative is to provide networking, mentorship, and learning opportunities to young professionals interested in giving back to their community through social work.

Ruth Messinger, Stosh Cotler, and Jill Jacobs were the three panelists invited to speak at the closing ceremony. They articulately addressed issues such as the contribution of the Jewish community to causes related to poverty alleviation, and the role of women in leadership positions, particularly in the world of activism. The panel was moderated by Avodah’s Executive Director Cheryl Cook. They also talked about sources of inspiration they found in their journeys, as well as the importance of making such social justice journeys visible to the rest of the community, in the hope of inspiring new ones.

(The panel of the Fellowship Closing event, organized in the innovative and unconventional location of JCC Harlem)

One of the reasons why I am so interested in the work of the above mentioned activists and the entire team at Avodah is that I have explored only the theoretical side of these issues through my classes at Brandeis. As an aspiring Anthropologist looking to specialize in cultural studies, with a focus on group dynamics and the identity of disadvantaged groups and minorities, I chose the Social Justice internship at Avodah knowing that it would be an invaluable experience. I have spent the past two semesters studying the politics of poverty, group exclusion of the cultural and socioeconomic ‘Other,’ and social identity theory through the works of Clifford Geertz, Henri Tajfel, Barbara Ehrenreich, Michel Foucault, Philippe Bourgois, Nancy Scheper-Hughes, and my professor, Janet McIntosh. However, as an undergraduate student, I do not yet have access to the research opportunities of an actual anthropologist, which is why I chose to pursue the experiential learning process of this internship.

Unlike Philosophy or Political Theory, Cultural Anthropology is a descriptive discipline of human nature and culture, meaning that ethnographic fieldwork is essential. At Avodah I am able to observe the community living arrangements administered by the organization, meet with members and fellows of their Jewish Service Corps Training Program, who are learning practical ways in which to address the same issues I am theoretically interested in, and listen to the fascinating stories of activists such as the ones who took part in the above mentioned event.

Sonia Pavel ’20

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