As CJP’s director of social justice, I have the privilege of leading our Tzedek Initiative. Our work is multifaceted; social justice is a complex and changing landscape that requires us to ask how CJP can work with partners to repair our world.
In our Jewish and broader community, housing is a critical issue. Mayor Walsh has recently submitted a proposal that directly links housing security and economic mobility in Boston; 40 percent of people within our Jewish community who call the Warmline for CJP’s Anti-Poverty Initiative say that housing is their most dire need. CJP is proud to be working in coalition with partners across the city to prevent homelessness, providing opportunities for people to take action on issues that compel us to respond as Jews, with deep commitment to justice in the broader world. We also know that this work cannot hope to be successful without the commitment of our community—working together to pursue tzedek, and to bring a Jewish perspective to the many social justice issues in our world today.
CJP was proud to sponsor the third annual Winter Walk, where over 1,000 people, housed and unhoused, gathered together to raise funds and awareness to end homelessness in our city. It was a privilege to lead a CJP team at Winter Walk, and to be there as a Jewish community.
I’m thrilled to share the insights and thoughts of one of our team members, Nicolette Kolgraf, who walked with us on Feb. 10 and shares her experience below.
As I left my abundantly heated apartment building on the frigid morning of Feb. 10, a rush of biting, harsh New England winter wind unwelcomingly greeted me. I instinctively pulled my knit beanie farther over my head and quickly hopped into my car, setting the heat dial all the way to 90 degrees and pressing my hands against the vents. Not everyone gets to escape the cold, I reminded myself as I headed for the third annual Winter Walk to end homelessness in the Greater Boston area.
I attended Winter Walk with fellow colleagues and volunteers from Combined Jewish Philanthropies, hoping to raise awareness and funds for such a critical issue affecting both our Jewish and broader Boston communities. According to the annual homeless census, there are at least 6,327 homeless individuals in Boston (and this is widely seen as a low estimate). CJP’s Anti-Poverty Initiative has shown that housing continues to be an urgent need specifically in the Jewish community as well.
Despite the misleading sunny skies, those attending the Winter Walk bundled heavily in large jackets and multiple layers of clothing. Housed people joined those without homes to walk in solidarity as a community with a shared vision of ending homelessness in Massachusetts. An excited and spirited buzz generated from the mass of walkers who bounced up and down to music and chatted about their shared interests in social action.
After Mayor Marty Walsh’s speech, the crowd set off on our two-mile walk through and around the Boston Common. As we progressed down Boylston Street, I soon noticed that the raw February air penetrated through my heavy outerwear and chilled my entire body, quickly numbing my fingers and toes. I turned my head to watch the crowd behind me and was greeted by many pink cheeks, running noses and genuine smiles.
After narrowly avoiding ice patches and petting several dogs that joined us on our brief but powerful journey, the Winter Walk crowd returned to our meeting place at Copley Square to enjoy the energetic music of local Boston folk band Copilot and share a community breakfast. Together we munched on our food and celebrated our community coming together to make an impact. People appeared inspired, passionate and excited to raise awareness.
After saying my goodbyes, I retreated to my car and, once again, set the heat at full blast. Only this time, after spending merely two hours in the Boston cold, I did not quickly warm up. In fact, it wasn’t until I stepped into my warm shower that I began to expunge the winter chill out of my body. It was then that the reality of my experience—and the reality of the experience of others—truly hit me.
As a young Jewish woman with the resources and ability to make an impact, it is my responsibility to make my Jewish and broader Boston community a better place. My Jewish identity is strongly expressed through social action, and I believe that we must come together to work with our own neighbors to continually seek and promote equity, access and opportunity. For CJP, tikkun olam (repairing the world) is an essential part of their mission.
When it comes to our obligation as Jews to address systemic injustice within our community, our impact is stronger in partnerships with other organizations like Winter Walk, who are seeking to raise awareness and create lasting change. Personally, I joined the 2019 Winter Walk because the housing crisis in Boston affects my community and my neighbors, and it is my responsibility as a Jew and as a human to help. We have much work to do, and Winter Walk is just the start.
Nicolette Kolgraf is a senior at Stonehill College studying English and gender studies, where her research focuses on contemporary masculinity and gun violence.