(New York Jewish Week) — New York Jewish Agenda, a progressive Jewish advocacy organization, has named a successor to its founding executive director.
Phylisa Wisdom, 37, joins the organization after a year as director of development and government affairs at Yaffed, whose mission is to improve the quality of secular education in New York’s Hasidic and haredi yeshivas. She is taking over the position from Matt Nosanchuk, NYJA’s founding president and executive director, who will continue to be involved with the organization as a member of its board of directors, as per a press release.
Joining NYJA is a “long-term dream come true,” Wisdom told the New York Jewish Week.
Wisdom, whose first day on the job was Monday, has experience in advocacy through political campaigns, nonprofits and government agencies. She has held roles at the Brooklyn Democratic County Committee, Literacy Trust and the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services.
Founded in 2020 by Rabbis Rachel Timoner and Sharon Kleinbaum, NYC Comptroller Brad Lander, Amy Rutkin, chief of staff to Jerry Nadler along with Nosanchuk, the New York Jewish Agenda works to support and amplify the voices of Jewish community leaders “whose shared values motivate them to promote social justice, combat antisemitism, and support a democratic vision of Israel,” according to its website. “We engage on critical issues across New York City and State through advocacy, education, and collaboration.”
The organization has been involved with a wide range of issues and topics such as health, criminal justice reform, antisemitism, and advocating for Israel’s democracy. Most recently, NYJA has advocated for better representation of New York City’s Jewish community in Mayor Eric Adams’ Jewish Advisory Council.
“Phylisa Wisdom is exactly the right leader for this moment,” Timoner, NYJA co-founder and board member, said in the press release. “She’ll bring an inspiring and incisive voice to ensure that the majority of New York’s Jews are represented and heard.”
Wisdom said she hopes as executive director to build upon NYJA’s work of engaging the city and state on these issues. She’s also hoping to widen the group’s purview.
“I’m excited to build out our portfolio in other areas of interest,” Wisdom said. “So that’s really in public health, in immigration, in education, both public and private, and in supporting the climate. So really looking at state and city budget priorities, engaging our Leaders Network in those practices related to the budget, and making sure that our Leaders Network and founders, and the entire Jewish community’s voices are heard on these issues as well.”
A native of San Diego, Wisdom “came of age doing Jewish activism,” she said, describing her connection to Judaism as “largely through activism and engagement, community engagement and really a deep commitment to tikkun olam that was nurtured from a very young age, both by my parents and family and also my extended community.”
Wisdom’s years of activism began with registering voters as a teen; while in high school, she also joined the Union for Reform Judaism’s Religious Action Center in lobbying for reproductive justice.
Professionally, Wisdom, who has a masters in public policy, has worked with children with special needs for many years, including at the Executive Office of Health and Human Services in Massachusetts. There, as a public policy fellow, she worked on teen antiviolence programming.
Wisdom arrived in Brooklyn in 2017, fulfilling what she said was a long-held dream to live in New York. “My grandmother is from here and I’ve always loved the city,” she wrote in an email. She said she’s an avid consumer of the city’s restaurants, museums and arts and that while she does not belong to a synagogue, she has many Israeli friends and aims to become more involved with Brooklyn Jews, the young-adult division of Timoner’s Congregation Beth Elohim.
Wisdom’s path to Yaffed followed a stint working at the literacy nonprofit. There, she collaborated with the city’s Department of Education to ensure that students who needed literacy support had access to it. That led her to Yaffed, where she advocated for the needs of yeshiva studentsFrom there, she joined Yaffed to advocate for the needs of yeshiva students.
“I was really looking for a way to combine the love of education and making sure that kids got what they needed in their educational lives, and the public sector,” she said. Likewise, she said, she believes her new role offers opportunities to blend her passions.
“I am really excited that I can take all of those experiences and circle back to a Jewish community and be able to do that work and combine these passions,” Wisdom said.