Jamie Diamond never expected to find herself researching the trial of a death row inmate, but that was just one of many experiences during her year as an Avodah Corps Member that had a lifelong impact.
Jamie always had an interest in anti-poverty work, but it wasn’t until her experience as a 2016-2017 Service Corps Member that her potential as an organizer was solidified. She was an Avodah Corps Member at the MacArthur Justice Center, which oversees New Orleans’ city prison, the Orleans Justice Center. MJC advocates for safe conditions, access to quality physical and mental health care and protection from harassment and sexual assault for incarcerated people at OJC. The formation of the organization was a direct result of litigation brought against the prison in 2012 for inhumane conditions. Jamie was responsible for helping with answering calls and occasionally sitting in on court hearings. In her role, Jamie was often one of few people imprisoned individuals could rely on for accurate information about their court appearances and trials.
“A lot of time the incarcerated people wouldn’t know when their next court date was going to be. Sometimes they would know they were supposed to be out of prison and hadn’t been released yet. We often received dozens of calls per day.”
She also supported the lawyers with researching cases of wrongful convictions, working to exonerate incarcerated people on death row in Mississippi, and with a case in the City of Gretna in which the police department was illegally overcharging fees for nonviolent traffic misdemeanors. MJC eventually won the case in Gretna.
The job wasn’t easy, but she gained invaluable insights, developing both as a social justice professional and as an adult over the course of the year. Her time in New Orleans also prompted the launch of another passion of hers, the founding of a reproductive rights initiative called The Hanger Project.
Jamie wore a wire hanger pendant around her neck, a symbol of reproductive rights. The original pendant was lost during Mardi Gras, so Jamie decided to start making her own. She began selling the pendants to support national reproductive freedom organizations, and successfully raised $8,000 for the cause over the course of a few years. Using art as a means of social change continues to be a big part of her life. As of now, Jamie has coordinated 10 of artist markets benefitting reproductive freedom organizations and giving local artists a platform to sell their work.
“My experience with Avodah impacted my whole trajectory… I didn’t have formal Jewish education until Avodah, where I started to connect Judaism to social justice work. It feels very connected to me now.
“The programming Avodah had throughout the year gave me a clear picture of how different causes intersect. There are so many ways to do anti-poverty work. It definitely showed me there are always things you can do and be a part of justice work.”
Jamie now works as a Digital Communications Coordinator for Hebrew Union College in New York, which is the oldest Jewish seminary in North America and has been training Jewish leaders since its founding in 1875. She loves playing a small role in building the next generation of rabbis, cantors, and Jewish scholars and nonprofit professionals, who are doing moving and important work every day in their own communities. She recently graduated with a Master’s in Communications and continues to pursue justice work through art and organizing.
She is an active member of her local Democratic Socialists of America chapter in Nassau County, which is fighting for the New York Health Act, which would guarantee no-cost healthcare for every New Yorker; supports local progressive political campaigns; fights for climate justice and public power on Long Island; and organizes local mutual aid efforts such as a community garden and food distribution, among other initiatives.
She is inspired by the Jewish organizers in the early 20th century who she learned about during an Avodah program, who must have felt that their goals were a long shot, but continued fighting for them anyway and later won many of their demands, creating a better world for everyone.
“I will continue to be part of the local community, for my neighbors, fighting alongside them. I want to continue building the next generation of Jewish leaders.”