Documentary filmmaker Civia Tamarkin believes that Arizona is on the brink of true social change. She was recently elected president of the National Council of Jewish Women Arizona Section and is already using her new position to help advocate for that change. 

“It’s important to recognize that the NCJW could really be a very influential platform for social justice advocacy, and that is desperately needed in this state,” Tamarkin said. “NCJW can work on behalf of the progressive and humanistic goals that we need under the oppressiveness of this administration.” 

The NCJWAZ elected Tamarkin as its newest president at the end of April. She was formally installed — along with the group’s newest officers and members of the board of directors — in May at its latest meeting. Arizona House Minority co-Whip Athena Salman attended the meeting as the guest speaker and offered a speech on women’s empowerment. 

Salman was asked to attend the meeting because Tamarkin described her as an innovator for change and the “leading progressive advocate for reproductive rights, gender equity, immigration reform and public education.”

Tamarkin joined the NCJWAZ in 2017. After her second film, “Birthright: A War Story,” was released that same year, Tamarkin was contacted by the Arizona Section of the National Council of Jewish Women to sponsor a screening. 

Tamarkin primarily avoided advocacy work during her 35-year career as a journalist, as she said it would have been a conflict of interest. She worked at CNN as an executive producer and as an investigative producer at ABC News. However, after researching the NCJW, she quickly became involved. In 2018, became the vice president of social justice for the group’s Arizona Section. 

“In my research, I learned that reproductive justice was really the key mission and focus of the NCJW,” Tamarkin said. “What particularly excited me about the organization was its rapid response approach to so many issues like [Brett] Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court and state-by-state reproductive restrictions.”

Tamarkin admitted that she was hesitant to take on the responsibility of president, but she and the organization worked to restructure itself to better accommodate the workload. But the organization will continue its rapid response actions on certain policy issues. As an advocacy group, Tamarkin said it cannot directly support a candidate, but it can work to educate the public and advocate for issues. 

The NCJWAZ attended a Roe v. Wade rally on May 21 at the Arizona Capitol building. The rally drew an estimated 200 people, mainly women, to protest a new wave of anti-abortion laws being adopted by other states.

Tamarkin also worked to clarify a new bill that was recently introduced into legislation. House Bill 2759 calls for a $2.5 million appropriation of the state general fund for organizations that promote and “encourage healthy childbirth, support childbirth as an alternative to abortion, promote family formation, aid successful parenting and increase families’ economic self-sufficiency.” 

When the bill was first introduced, many were protesting it because they were under the impression that it was an attack on women’s rights. Tamarkin contacted several advocacy groups to inform them that the bill wasn’t specifically against a women’s right to choose but was, in fact, sponsored by a Texas-based religious organization, the Human Coalition. Tamarkin emphasized to the advocacy groups that HB 2759 should still be protested, as she said it violates the separation of church and state. She encouraged continued protest over the bill, but wanted the protesters to have a more accurate understanding of the bill’s contents. 

Offering that input is one of her responsibilities. She’s only held the presidency for a short while, but Tamarkin is already working on plans for new programs the NCJWAZ will host. 

“What the NCJWAZ is going to try to develop is a youth educational program that talks about the rights, responsibility and the respect of bodily autonomy and sexual behavior,” Tamarkin said. “We’re hoping to have youths understand the risks of jeopardizing one’s ability to make her own medical decisions.” 

Tamarkin said that the NCJWAZ plans to reach out to educators both within and beyond the Jewish community to create a youth educational program and event about reproductive rights. While the program is still in its developmental stages, she hopes that it could become a template for other communities across the country.  

“This is a unique organization because our goal is not fundraising, nor is it a primarily social organization,” Tamarkin explained. “Its mission is advocacy and to lead the fight for social justice and to improve the civil, constitutional and reproductive rights of all people.” JN

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