Rose Espinola, Earth-Based Judaism student, recognized for their research at the intersection of social justice & spirituality 

Rose Espinola is many things. A social justice organizer, a data analyst, a parent, and a student of Earth-Based Judaism. At the center of all of these things, they are keenly aware that they are foremost a descendant of their ancestors. As they put it, “throughout my life, I’ve been trying to figure out how all my ancestors have danced together…Over time I’ve realized that my ancestors would love each other because they love me.”

Raised in a Jewish household in South Florida, Rose is multiracial. Rose’s mother is Ashkenazi Jewish and father is mestizo Mexican. They uncovered their passion for social justice work through el Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán (MEChA) and Xicana spirituality. Their background, including their varied experiences with spirituality, eventually lead them to practice their faith through social justice work.

This work was recently recognized by the Jews of Color Initiative who awarded Rose a research grant to study how Jews of color talk about using ritual in their pregnancy and the post-partum period. Rose’s research in this area was initially launched through their own experience with pregnancy and the post-partum period in which they relied on both Jewish and Mexican ritual. Drawing upon oral history methodology, Rose’s research involves collecting stories on the subject of ritual in pregnancy and post-partum, an area in which they have done extensive research through their classes with ALEPH’s Earth-Based Judaism program.

In addition to their research into ritual and pregnancy, Rose has spent their time in the Earth-Based Judaism program focusing on emergent interpretations of Jewish text and “how faith communities can make the world a better place.” Rose’s textual study within Earth-Based Judaism has had a particular focus on the notion of “mixture as holy.” As they describe it, “I focus on mixture because there’s a misconception in Judaism of mixture as bad which can be misunderstood as interracial mixtures, or interfaith mixtures as bad.” Rose’s drive to explore Jewish texts from the standpoint of emergence and enmeshment stems from a deep curiosity of what it looks like to be a theologian, and an interest in the idea of becoming a contemporary Baal Shem, a Jewish mystical healer, in a social justice context. “I am really interested in spiritual power and social justice organizing. I’ve studied Jewish texts searching for ways we can see our marginal identities at the center of Judaism, feel powerful, and take action to build a more just world.”

Rose’s understanding of the connection between spirituality and social justice organizing stems from an early age: “I always felt out of place at synagogue. I hung out with the other outcasts, queer kids, and mixed kids. I was in the choir at synagogue and deeply interested in faith. [But when] my older brother passed away when I was 14, and I could no longer believe that God existed. While his passing took me away from my faith, [in life] he had brought me closer to a different type of faith. He [was the one who] taught me about colonization. It was because of him I understood the ways in which I was ashamed of being Mexican, and the ways that we had suffered due to racism. And [after his death] I became more curious about social justice and the ways I could fight for migrant and racial justice.”

Over the past 14 years, Rose has organized and won dozens of social justice campaigns, including a movement in solidarity with hotel workers that forced their university to publicly divest $15 million from a hotel company with workers rights violations. Nine universities followed suit and the workers subsequently won a union. This experience, among others, led Rose to ask questions about the use of data in their field. “We were winning campaigns…but I was wondering what if we actually knew how to use our database.” They began to learn how to leverage data analytics for issues campaigns rather than electoral campaigns. “Most people in progressive spaces who know data tend to come from electoral organizing work. That creates an issue where electoral workers get hired to run programs and use electoral metrics. I wanted to figure out how we could set metric goals for a team that would allow us to follow up with every single person who said they wanted to be involved. I wanted to use our data to build work plans that would get us to an organizing goal, [rather than an electoral one] because those goals tend to be different…Issue organizing is different because it’s not a numbers game. It’s a power game….I was able to [figure out] how to set metric goals for issue organizing that could be shared with funders rather than funders giving us metric goals.”

Rose’s work in training others to leverage data analytics for social justice recently earned them special recognition in the form of the GainPower IDEA Award. The award celebrates their facilitation of trainings on digital organizing and analytics, and their work with Movement Tech Help Desk, an organization they founded in 2020. 

From working with Planned Parenthood to design a data-driven organizing model, to developing Public Citizen’s 700-person distributed volunteer program for trade justice, Rose has come to understand the power of collective action. “Changes don’t come from within institutions typically, there is [collective] power that comes from outside,” they explain. Through their ongoing research with the Jews of Color Initiative and ALEPH’s Earth-Based Judaism program, they are continuing to explore and redefine what it means to collectively organize, both from outside and within institutions, for a better world.

Rose Espinola (they/them) practices their faith through their social justice work. Rose is a social justice organizer and data scientist who has won more than a dozen campaigns including comprehensive sex education, unionization fights, prison divestment, and the defeat of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. They currently support organizations with training, data infrastructure, and digital strategy through their business Espinola Strategies. Rose is also founder of La Luchita Project, which leads trips to Cuba for community organizers, and the Movement Tech Help Desk, which provides on-call tech support to movement organizations while building a pipeline of progressive BIPOC technologists.

Rose’s mother is Ashkenazi Jewish and father is mestizo Mexican. Rose was raised Jewish, and came to social justice work through el Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán (MEChA) and Xicana spirituality. Rose has a home-, family-, ancestor-, and earth-based spiritual practice, and finds community in Jews of Color spaces. Rose is from South Florida and currently lives in the DC suburbs. In their free time, they enjoy hiking, making homemade herbal medicine, and watching reality TV.