By ALAN SMASON, Exclusive to the CCJN
Avodah New Orleans, the Jewish service corps, honored three New Orleans area individuals for their stellar work in promoting social justice at its annual Partners in Justice Brunch on Sunday, June 2.
Attorney Melanie Bronfin, executive director of the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children, Norris Henderson, the founder and executive director of VOTE (Voice of the Experienced), and retired Judge Miriam Waltzer were all acknowledged as integral partners with AVODAH at the jazz brunch held for the first time at Congregation Gates of Prayer in Metairie.
Waltzer follows her husband Bruce, who received a similar acknowledgment in 2013 and thus is the first husband and wife to follow one another with a Partners in Justice Award.
Dani Levine, the Avodah New Orleans director, announced at the beginning of her address that local Avodah board member Lynne Wasserman had been elevated as the newly-installed national chair of the Avodah national board, the first time a New Orleanian had achieved that status. Avodah, which began in New York, has other houses located in Chicago and Washington, D.C.
Levine thanked the entertained provided by the Messy Cookers, a jazz duo featured former Avodah service corps member Alex Owen (2012-13) on trumpet. The reference for the group’s name is to the state of the kitchen at the Avodah House on Jefferson, where all service corps members reside.
Levine emphasized how the New Orleans justice community is enriched by the involvement of Avodah service corps members, but also how the Jewish community is enriched by Avodah’s involvement in meaningful programs delivering significant services to under-served segments of the community-at-large.
A video showed Calvin Duncan and the organization he co-founded with five others, the First 72+. The purpose of the group is to help acclimate newly-freed prisoners to society and help them with the difficult period of transition. The film explained his involvement with an Avodah corps member, Ora Nitkin-Kaner, who worked with Duncan while he was wrongfully incarcerated for 27 years. She was so moved by him that she provided a letter of recommendation for Duncan prior to his release from prison. The video continued, showing how Duncan sent a letter of recommendation on Nitkin-Kaner’s behalf prior to her being accepted and entering a seminary. She has since become an ordained rabbi.
Levine introduced current service corps member Sophie Kerman, who reflected about her experiences thus far.
Wasserman thanked Kerman for her time. She indicated that a process to locate a fifth Avodah House in San Diego has begun in response to the immigration issues and extreme homelessness there.
Waserman then introduced each of the three honorees, each of whom was given a special plaque with the phrase in Hebrew and English that read “Until we are free, we are none of us free.”
Rabbi Gabe Greenberg delivered the closing benediction, announcing that he would be leaving New Orleans soon for Philadelphia to become the Hillel rabbi associated with the University of Pennsylvania.
Here are photos from the event: