|Written by Tamara Symonds|
Social Justice Fellow Nomi Teutsch – A Profile
If there is an ideal year for an Social Justice Fellow, Nomi Teutsch had one. She worked on issues close to her heart, initiated important changes, had a great time, and decided on a profession to boot.
Nomi is not a newcomer to social change. As a philosophy major at Wesleyan University, she persuaded the college to change its sexual assault policy and conducted a theater workshop for incarcerated women.
A native of Philadelphia, Nomi interned after high school at the NGO Encounter. The experience demonstrated to her "the importance of face-to-face encounters and personal narratives along lines of difference in creating empathy for the other."
Nomi spent her first year out of college as a Tony Blair Foundation Faith Acts Fellow. During that year, she participated in a Connect NYC training for religious leaders on domestic violence and was inspired by its power.
"I experienced the synergy of diverse people working together on an issue and also building relationships that are transformative," says Nomi. "So when I applied for the Social Justice Fellowship, my hope was to adapt that program to the Israeli context."
A Jewish day school graduate and the daughter of a Reconstructionist rabbi and a Judaica artist, Nomi brought together all her past experience and her passion for interfaith action, social change, and feminism by interning through her fellowship this year at both the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel (ICCI) and the Jerusalem Rape Crisis Center.
At the ICCI, Nomi facilitated a cross-cultural literature group; ran a group for Jewish and Palestinian women graduates of dialogue groups who wanted to take action together, and, in partnership with Kol HaIsha, coordinated a landmark conference of 40 Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Druze religious leaders on responding to and preventing domestic violence. The day included skills based training about what to do when a woman approaches a religious leader about domestic violence.
"Women often turn to religious leaders, so those people need to have the right messages and training," said Nomi. "The most exciting aspect of this work was seeing how eager the participants were for training, information and guidance on this issue. They felt a great need and they want to be the best that they can be when addressing this.
"The year deepened my belief that if your goal is to build peace between communities, working on issues on shared concern rather than just talking about them is a powerful way to get there. The coalition of 15 Christian, Muslim, and Jewish women who worked on the conference didn't come together to become friends, but by the time the day rolled around, there was a strong sense of sisterhood between them."
You can read Nomi's Huffington Post blog post about the conference here.
At the Rape Crisis Center, Nomi ran workshops for 7th to 12th graders in secular public schools on communication, consent, and boundaries in order to help them build healthy relationships. "It was a lot of fun as well as energizing and inspiring to see the power of education in action," says Nomi. "The kids really internalized the themes of our sessions."
In her spare time, Nomi took advantage of Jerusalem as both a Jewish learning and a cosmopolitan center by studying kabala at the Conservative Yeshiva; having a weekly chevruta (study dyad) on the Rambam; studying yoga and dance, and joining a philosophy reading group.
Nomi sums up her year: "It was great. I love living in Hebrew. Having Shabbat in community and being able to explore so many davening (prayer) spaces was a big part of my year. Traveling around the country, spending as many weekends as possible hiking and seeing all the beauty was something I tried to balance out the intensity of social change work and of living in Jerusalem.
"I came out with a lot of clarity about what I want my next steps to be. I want to be doing interpersonal, emotionally-based social change work and I want to work against violence from a feminist perspective. I decided to apply for a master's degree in social work.
"The six other Fellows were all fantastic, inspiring people. I learned a lot from my colleagues in all the organizations and from the work itself and I got a great education in Israeli social change," she concludes. "I am really grateful to SHATIL and NIF for this life changing experience."
The NIF/SHATIL Social Justice Fellowships enable a cadre of post-college Jewish young adults to spend 10 months immersed in the movement for social change in Israel. Applications for the 2014-15 Fellowship will be available in September. Click here to learn more and help us spread the word about this amazing opportunity!