Meet Social Justice Fellow Abigail Kolker

17 September 2015

Abigail Kolker is no newcomer to social change. “Even at a young age, I was passionate about social justice,” says Abby. “In high school, I volunteered in soup kitchens and homeless shelters. In college, as I learned about the structural issues that underlie social inequality, I started to become uncomfortable with that kind of volunteering. That’s when I decided I would rather focus on addressing social issues, but from an institutional or structural perspective.”

A native of Baltimore, Abby grew up with a keen awareness of socioeconomic and race-related issues. Determined to advocate for social justice, she studied social science, majoring in urban studies, Hispanic studies, and gender studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

After college, Abby received a grant and the opportunity to travel to Israel, where she began to work for MESILA, an organization providing aid and information to migrant workers and asylum seekers in Tel Aviv-Yafo. Following MESILA, Abby accepted a position at NIF grantee the African Refugee Development Center and later, at another NIF grantee, The Adva Center, where she conducted advocacy and public outreach on behalf of Israel’s migrant populations.

These experiences, combined with Abby’s participation in the Dorot Fellowship, prepared her well for her latest role as an NIF/Shatil Social Justice Fellow. “Launching PAVI: Progressive Activism and Volunteering in Israel during my year as a Dorot Fellow, helped me understand the importance of grassroots organizations,” said Abby. “PAVI connects English speakers to volunteer and activist opportunities throughout Israel, stimulating service and activism within the state’s English-speaking community and supporting its leading civil society organizations — both of which were important elements during my time as a Fellow.”

Seeking an additional opportunity to address migration issues, Abby returned to the U.S. and applied to the NIF/Shatil Social Justice Fellowship program. During her fellowship, Abby interned at Kav LaOved, a nonprofit that protects the rights of Israel’s most disadvantaged workers.

“I loved this aspect of the work because I got to meet the people and hear their stories,” said Abby, a noticeable gleam in her eyes. “I also conducted many interviews as part of my research, so I was able to hear what their circumstances were like, how they got to Israel, how they were finding Israel, what their challenges were. These personal connections were ultimately the most rewarding part of my work.”

Abby was incredibly appreciative for her time as a Fellow. “I think the reason I got so much out of it was because when I came in, I knew which organization I wanted to work with and what I wanted to get out of the year,” said Abby. “Kav LaOved was a great fit.”

Talking about the Fellowship, Abby said, “I’d definitely recommend it to somebody who wants to have a very autonomous experience or wants to work for a NGO that couldn’t necessarily afford to hire them otherwise; they can learn so much about the specific field that interests them.

“Also, because you’re a Fellow and not a regular employee, you can choose projects that are really exciting and interesting to you. I think that’s something special that you can only get by being a NIF/Shatil Fellow,” she concludes. “I’ve had a great year and a great experience.”

Applications for the 2016-17 Social Justice Fellowship will be available soon. Click here for more information and to apply »