In the story of Exodus, Nachshon was the first Israelite to wade into the Red Sea, confident that it would part like Moses promised. Jewish Funds for Justice is taking this metaphor and running with it: Their Nachshon Challenge gives grants to leaders who are boldly going, to mix Jewish metaphors, where no one has gone before. A couple weeks ago, Jewcy’s editor-in-chief Tahl wondered what would justify Judaism’s continuing existence in the 21st century. Not being a prophet or religious genius, I won’t pretend I have an answer, but I do think programs like the Nachshon Challenge are an excellent step towards continued relevance for one shockingly basic reason: Some of the people funded by the program aren’t Jewish. One, in fact, is a minister of a Baptist church. And their projects generally aim to do good not just within the Jewish world, but within the world at large. Look at the description of the project run by the Baptist minister, Reverend Calvin Keene:
Rev. Keene left a career as a successful businessman to become the pastor of Memorial Baptist Church in the Oliver neighborhood in East Baltimore, where he grew up. Working with BUILD (Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development), Pastor Keene has been a driving force in the renewal of the economically depressed Oliver neighborhood, which gained notoriety through the HBO series The Wire. Along with other members of the community, Memorial Baptist acquired adjacent houses and parcels of land to create a foundation for the area’s redevelopment. JFSJ is working in close partnership with Rev. Keene, BUILD, The Reinvestment Fund, THE ASSOCIATED: The Jewish Federation of Greater Baltimore, and other members of the Baltimore Jewish community, to revitalize the area and develop hundreds of lots for new homes and businesses.
Is social justice the soul of Judaism, as a Jewcy dialog once asked? Not necessarily. But is social justice in the Baltimore ghetto a Jewish issue? Of course, because Jewish organizations are making it a Jewish issue. And not even youngish leftish organizations like the JFSJ, but the Jewish Federation of Greater Baltimore, which is not exactly a "Shalom Motherfucker" kind of place. A Judaism that can help a Baptist minister fund a totally non-Jewy project simply because it's a good cause—that’s the kind of pluralistic Judaism that has a chance of meaning something in the 21st century.
You can read about other leaders and donate to the Nachshon Challenge here.