Joining the Fight to Protect Human Rights

By Zillah al-Kahiyah

September 12, 2023

I began making educational content about Jewish issues in online spaces in 2019 due to the increasing violence and antisemitism in online and offline spaces. That antisemitism seemed to reach a crescendo in May 2021 due to events happening on the other side of the world from the United States.

Like many other American progressive Jews, I lost a lot of left-leaning community spaces and friend groups in the weeks that followed. I was dismayed to learn that certain progressive ideals don’t always seem to apply to Jewish people, according to those non-Jewish spaces.

 

Search for Community

When it was time to start applying for jobs, I knew it needed to be with a Jewish organization — and with Jewish people who could hold these conversations with respect and nuance.

From my first day, I felt comfortable and accepted at the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Phoenix (JCRC). The JCRC conducts strategic communication, rapid response, and conflict management for the Jewish community—and other vulnerable communities—across the Valley of the Sun. When not dealing with crisis, it manages the advocacy, interfaith outreach, and community bridge-building of the Jewish community of greater Phoenix.

For the first time in my life, I was surrounded by people who understood social justice issues through an informed and sympathetic lens. I was suddenly having critical conversations about complex issues that mattered most to me. And it wasn’t all just talk.

 

Passion in Profession

During my time at the JCRC, I have been able to work on projects that have affected me on a personal level and that I feel passionately about. I’ve helped pass legislation to protect some of the most vulnerable and marginalized religious communities in the state of Arizona with the passage of Senate Bill 1713, the Nonprofit Security Grant Program bill, in early 2023.

I learned how to properly de-escalate and neutralize threats against innocent people protesting on behalf of human rights. I have had the privilege of working with other faith leaders in the Phoenix, and greater Arizona community, to address issues that impact the most vulnerable people in our communities. Issues like homelessness, immigration rights, and poverty.

Not only had I never worked for a Jewish organization before, but I had also never worked at a job where my LGBT identity was respected, protected, and supported. I had worked at jobs that, of course, followed federally mandated guidelines for anti-discrimination laws (and a few that did not). But the difference was stark between my identity being protected at a job because it was legally mandated by the federal government, and my identity being respected at a job because the people involved knew it was simply the right thing to do.

 

The Inclusive Side of Phoenix

It’s a theme I continue to find over and over again in progressive Jewish spaces as Jewish organizations, synagogues, and individuals around the world stand up for human rights while governments slowly erode them with bigoted and harmful legislation.

During a time when the US Supreme Court is rolling back rights and protections for women and minorities, and with Jewish communities experiencing increased hate crimes, it’s reassuring to know that I am supported by the people I have around me.

I know that many Jewish people have had the experience of wondering who in their lives they could trust if they ever needed to hide during persecution again. I have never had to spend even a moment of my time wondering if the Phoenix Jewish community would be willing to protect me and fight on my behalf: They had been long before I ever even arrived.

Zillah al-Kahiyah serves as the Communications and Public Diplomacy Fellow for the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Phoenix  

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