Keshet recently spoke with Raffi Freedman-Gurspan. Raffi, a Jewish woman, is the first openly transgender member of staff at the White House. Pictured above: Raffi (center), with Keshet’s Idit Klein (left) and Joanna Ware (right).
How has your Jewish identity and/or your Jewish values helped shape the course of your career?
My Jewish identity and family played an enormous role in shaping the individual I am today. Torah, tzedakah, and tikkun olam are essentially the Jewish education I received at Temple Israel in Boston and at home. The importance of social action and taking responsibility of the welfare of those less fortunate in our midst was drilled into me by parents and Jewish educators from an early age.
Embracing diversity and understanding different perspectives was also a value I learned through Judaism. My family has also been at the forefront of many important movements in our nation’s history. My great-grandmother was a suffragette who fought for women’s right to vote; my grandparents advocated for unions, fair wages, and worker protections; and my parents, as social workers, have consistently supported social justice causes including voting and civil rights for people of color, destigmatization of mental illness, and women’s and LGBTQ rights. I believe this progressive Jewish upbringing, both at synagogue and at home, deeply impacted the path I took to work on public policy matters that affect the neediest in our society.
You recently returned to Massachusetts, where the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston honored you with the Excellency in Advocacy Award. Can you share with us what that experience was like?
To be honored by the JCRC of Greater Boston, a Jewish organization that champions causes I believe in, alongside other great women leaders was humbling. The Massachusetts State House, as an event location, was so symbolically important because it is where my political lens was sharpened when I worked for former State Representative Carl Sciortino in the House of Representatives. I firmly believe the positive experience I had working in the Legislature prepared me for my work here at the White House. Therefore, the JCRC event was a moving ‘homecoming’ and recognition of the work I have done and hope to continue to pursue in future.