Author Archives: Mindy Isser

Live from the Lilith Blog

June 6, 2017 by

Jewish Women on the Ramparts for Graduate-Worker Unions

Yale University graduate students at a vigil for the hunger fast. (Photo from Local 33-Unite Here's Facebook page).

Yale University graduate students at a vigil for the hunger fast. (Photo from Local 33-Unite Here’s Facebook page).

It’s not something I ever thought I’d have to do to get the university I attend, and work at, to follow the most basic labor law,” said Lena Eckert-Erdheim. She’s a graduate student worker at Yale University, and she’s talking about her eight-day fast, part of the #FastAgainstSlow. Though she wasn’t raised in a religious family, Eckert-Erdheim said that for her “fasting has a spiritual element to it… it’s an act that speaks very powerfully to many traditions.” 

Why did Eckert-Erdheim decide to go on a hunger strike? In February, eight of the nine departments at Yale whose graduate student workers voted on whether to join a union, voted yes. However, the administration has refused to acknowledge—let alone negotiate with—the union. Instead, they have appealed the vote to National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Graduate workers are seeking, among other things, improved child care, better health care, and a sexual harassment grievance procedure. In response to the administration’s continued refusal to negotiate, grad workers at Yale embarked on the hunger strike that Eckert-Erdheim participated in, which lasted until Yale’s commencement on May 22. 

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Live from the Lilith Blog

March 14, 2017 by

Why We Need to Teach Tzedek, Not Just Tzedekah

Tzedekah pouch. Photo credit: Cheskel Dovid.

Growing up, I spent a lot of time in my Conservative synagogue—my parents prioritized Jewish learning, and so I spent two afternoons and one morning a week in Hebrew school. Nothing about adolescence has shaped me as much as those classes, where I learned an incredible amount about Judaism, the limits of liberalism, and myself.  

My biggest learning memory—outside of beginning to understand the depths of horror of the Holocaust—is around tzedakah, charity. We often did our morally obligated good deeds together as a class: volunteered at homeless shelters, delivered groceries to senior citizens, and put quarters in the tzedakah box (which is a lot when you’re in middle school!) We would talk about how we felt afterward—nervous and guilty, yet righteous—and how important it is to “give back,” both because God commands it and also just because it’s the “right thing to do.”

But many things are the “right thing to do,” including fighting for unions in the workplace, for a world without refugees, and for an economic and political system that works for all of us. Although there was intense focus on tzedakah, I don’t remember learning about tzedek, the root word of tzedekah—justice, the lifeblood of Jewish history and resistance.

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