Fifteen years ago (Saturday, July 23rd) was my first day of work at the RFC. I came onboard as the granting coordinator, supporting beneficiary families in applying for and utilizing grants for their children. It’s hard to believe that was a decade and a half ago; this is by far the longest I’ve ever spent at a job and I have no plans to leave any time soon.
When I think back over my time at the RFC, there are so many memories that immediately spring to mind, some of them sad or painful but many filled with joy, friendship and a deep sense of community. To mark this anniversary, I thought I’d take a trip down memory lane and share some of my favorite memories (and photos!) with you.
1. Happy tears with a beneficiary mom
My first granting cycle at the RFC was a bit overwhelming as I juggled emails and phone calls and lots of applications and questions from beneficiary families. In the midst of all of that, I spent a fair amount of time on the phone with one mom who was applying for a grant for the first time for her young daughter. She seemed astonished that support might be available to her daughter because of her activism and targeting and was asking for a laptop for her daughter for school; since it was the fall granting cycle, she asked me if I would be able to get her daughter the computer before Christmas if the Board approved the grant, since she was worried that might be the only present she’d have for her daughter. I called her after the first fall granting meeting to tell her the grant was approved and started explaining the process for how we could process the grant to make sure she had the computer for her daughter before the holidays. I stopped talking when the silence on the other end of the phone struck me, and I realized she was weeping at the news that the grant had been approved and that she’d be able to give her daughter the laptop as a present that year. I think I cried with her on the phone for a bit, before we both took a deep breath and went back to discussing the details.
In July, 2014 the RFC co-sponsored Seeger Fest, a five day, multi-city music and arts festival honoring Pete and Toshi Seeger, founding RFC advisory members and long time, generous friends of the RFC and the Rosenberg/Meeropol families. Having a front row seat to incredible music performances and spending time with music legends and newcomers as they celebrated the music and activism of Pete and Toshi was an amazing experience. [Read more about Seeger Fest at https://www.rfc.org/blog/article/1628]
[Jenn Meeropol with Gina Belafonte at SeegerFest]
3. Building lasting connections at Gatherings
The first Gathering I attended was the RFC’s second Gathering in 2001, well before I started working at the RFC. It was geared towards young adult beneficiaries and I had a blast hanging out with a bunch of attendees about my age (and a little younger). A group of young women sat in a circle under a tree during free time, giving each other (and a few of the adventurous guys) pedicures; one young woman had her young daughter with her and we played a never-ending game of pass the baby as we took turns snuggling her and dancing with her at the closing program the last night we were together. Since then, I’ve attended the subsequent seven Gatherings we’ve hosted, I welcomed folks arriving at the airport, tried to get the bus to follow the directions to our venue (only sometimes successfully), talked and danced with parents and kids, played cards well into the night, and existed on almost no sleep for what felt like days on end and still had an amazing time. I’m still in touch with many of the folks I met at Gatherings and am so grateful for the friendship and connections we’ve maintained over the years.
[RFC's 2008 Family Gathering]
4. Meeting a recently released political prisoner
Probably six to eight years ago I participated on a panel about supporting political prisoners at Left Forum in NYC. There was a buzz in the room during the panel when an older gentleman walked in and took a seat. After the panel I watched as a line formed, and panelists and attendees waited to talk with the man. Someone asked me to come meet him and he introduced himself to me; turns out he was a long-time political prisoner whose family we had supported for years, including prison visits to see him for his grandchildren. He thanked me for the support and asked if he could hug me, which he did. It was remarkable to hear and feel the impact of those grants on him and his family and to get to see him finally out in the world with his loved ones, living his life outside prison walls. [And as a very lucky bonus, a generous RFC donor was in the audience that day, heard what he said about the impact of prison visits and started increasing his annual gift to include significant support for our Attica prison visit grants.]
5. Hanging out with beneficiaries in Philly
About six or so years ago, I was in Philadelphia for an RFC benefit film screening. While I was in town, I was able to connect with several beneficiary families who lived in the area and helped organize and staff the event. One mom whom I’d gotten close to over the years offered to show me around the city and make sure I had some downtime before the screening. I was grateful to spend a few hours of quiet time at her home, where I got to see her now adult son, who I first met as a teenager at one of our Gatherings. He was doing well after some difficult years and generously insisted on sending me and his mom out to Reading Terminal Marketplace with his credit card, insisting that anything I wanted for lunch was his treat. His mom took that charge seriously and plied me with amazing food, though I did say no thanks to the enormous Amish donuts covered in maple bacon! I had such a lovely time with both of them.
[Jenn Meeropol at the RFC's 2008 Family Gathering]
6. Eek! Bats!
The last Family Gathering we hosted was in 2014. It was on a college campus and one of their requirements for using their space was that the folks who would be staffing the event attend a public safety briefing with a campus police officer so they could fill us in on their protocols and we’d know who to call if specific problems occurred during the weekend. RFC staff and peer leaders (former beneficiaries attending the Gathering to serve as mentors/camp counselors for the younger kids and teens) met for several hours with “Officer Bob.” The training was easy to follow and most of the information was pretty straightforward. Until we got to the section on bats. Apparently, some of the old dorms on campus (including the one we’d be staying in) sometimes had bats as uninvited guests. Officer Bob was quick to tell us not to call him if we had a bat problem, “I don’t handle bats,” he said firmly and gave us a number to call for, in his words, the bat guys. Three days later, a group of peer leaders and I and a few of the older kids are in a common room in our dorm late at night, talking and playing cards, and I noticed that one of the peer leaders was very distracted; he kept glancing around the room and finally smiled at me and said, “call Officer Bob!” Darned if a bat wasn’t swooping around the room while he watched it, completely drawn in by how it fluttered around. I do NOT like wild creatures in my space and barely restrained myself from yelling and waking up all the kids and parents. We managed to get everyone out of the room, close the doors with the bat still trapped inside and then I explained to the older boys that no, they were not going to go bat catching but instead help us keep the doors closed while we waited for help to arrive. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the way that peer leader smirked at me as he insisted we call Officer Bob to come deal with the bat that the Officer clearly wanted no part of. We laughed about it for the rest of the Gathering and, in retrospect, “call officer Bob” became one of my favorite Gathering memories ever.
7. Losing Beneficiaries
From one of the funniest memories to two of the saddest: I usually take a two week family vacation every summer and two times those vacations were interrupted by calls or texts from RFC families letting us know that a beneficiary parent or child had died. I don’t think I’ll ever forget either of those calls and profoundly hope I never receive another one.
8. Watching 60 Minutes
In October 2016, the 60 Minutes segment featuring my dad and uncle premiered. RFC staff and the consultants working with us on the Exonerate effort wanted to watch the premiere together and ideally craft a press release and response right after since we knew we’d receive media inquiries asking for our reaction to the episode once it aired. It ended up feeling a bit like a comedy of errors: one person had a big living room to fit us all comfortably but no cable to watch the show; another had cable but a small TV and not enough room for us to watch together. Eventually we booked a room at a local hotel with a living room area with a big screen tv with cable. We checked in, watched the show, crafted our response on multiple laptops, ran it by my dad and uncle, edited and reworked it and, once we decided it final, checked out of the room later that evening (which was very confusing to the folks at the front desk).
[CBS/AP coverage of the Exonerate campaign (Dec. 1, 2016)]
9. On stage with my dad
One of my fondest memories was being onstage with my dad at our “Celebrate the Children of Resistance” program in June 2013 as we marked the 60th anniversary of my grandparents’ executions and announced my dad’s retirement and my taking over as Executive Director later that fall. So many members of my family, long time Rosenberg family and RFC supporters and dear friends were in the audience and I was sharing the stage, perhaps for the last time at an RFC event, with my dad, who created the RFC out of the pain he and his brother experienced as young children and was trusting me to nurture and continue to care for his third baby. It was an extraordinary and emotional evening.
[Jennifer and Robert Meeropol onstage for the RFC's 2013 “Celebrate the Children of Resistance”]
10. Finally visiting Highlander
In 2019 I went to Highlander for the first time to attend their Homecoming event. My dad had been at Highlander seeking potential beneficiaries decades ago but while I had heard about the venerable movement center for years, I’d never been. It ended up being an incredible experience to spend time in a place steeped in a tradition of activism, resistance and deep commitment to grassroots organizing. I met extraordinary people, and made deep, meaningful connections. I’ve wanted to go back ever since and hope that I’ll be able to participate in future gatherings, either in person or virtually.
[Jenn Meeropol with beneficiary mom at Highlander Center]
I started this blog thinking that fifteen years deserved fifteen memories, but I’m wordy and I didn’t want this post to go on forever, so instead I decided to share the previous 10 memories in some detail with the following five additional memories shared in much less detail (in most cases because I or someone else at the RFC has written about them before).
11. Finally seeing Angels in America with the RFC staff in the summer of 2018 (I wrote a blog about the experience: https://www.rfc.org/blog/article/2285)
12. The media frenzy surrounding the release of the grand jury testimony by Ruth Greenglass and others in 2008 and of David Greenglass’ testimony in 2015 following his death. Read more about both at https://www.rfc.org/blog/article/2057 and https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/news/20150714-Rosenberg-spy-case-Greenglass-testimony/)
13. Everything about the Exonerate Ethel campaign: from the months of prep to the launch to the excitement of the Change.org and RootsAction petitions going live and seeing hundreds and then thousands of signatures pour in to the media frenzy on December 1st 2016 as my dad and uncle brought their petition to the gates of the White House (learn more about the Exoneration campaign at https://www.rfc.org/exonerate-ethel)
14. Before there was an Exoneration campaign, there were two proclamations honoring Ethel Rosenberg issued by the New York City Council and the Manhattan Borough President on Ethel Rosenberg's 100th birthday, September 28, 2015. https://www.rfc.org/rosenberg-case/overview
[Michael, Robert & Jennifer Meeropol at 2015 Proclamation event, NYC]
15. A bonus memory that is a bit of a cheat, since it happened in June 2007, right before I started working at the RFC. I was in the audience in Boston for our Celebrate the Children of Resistance event, which featured a conversation on activism and persistence and resistance through the years by Angela Davis and Howard Zinn. A young performer came on stage after them and, clearly star struck, proclaimed, “this is the academy awards of activists!” to raucous applause.
[2007 Celebrate the Children of Resistance event in Boston, MA]
I’m so grateful for all the memories and the people who made them possible: our beneficiaries, current and former Board and staff, and all the donors, volunteers, and members of our community who have made it possible for me to do this work for the last 15 years and to look forward to many more years to come. Thank you!
Congrats on your 15 year anniversary
Thank YOU for all you do
I was fifteen and deeply impressionable when the Rosenbergs were executed by my own country. I have been deeply impressed with your work ever since. That was near the beginning of The American Century, and now we are near its end. We are learning bitter lessons the hard way as we watch our country kill millions more with regime-change hubris. May our children decide to join the human race and fulfill the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. God bless all of you, and your work; I'm sure you know you've been right all along.
I keep airing in my mind memories linking Rosenbergs and Meeropols with either or both the Windsor Mountain School in Lenox, MA and or Swarthmore College. Am I off the trail? I do remember these as familiar names and in their youth as was I. I attended both places and worked at both places over the decades. In fondness and with respect, Maurice
What a great blog about your 15 years of memories!
Bravo for all you have done and are still doing to continue the legacy of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, as you work toward a more equitable and peaceful future for all people.
Congratulations to you all.
Thank you not only for this blog and others but for all the brave and needed work you and your family have done to pursue justice, everywhere.
Dear Jennifer Meeropol, Happy 15th Anniversary at the Praiseworthy and Greatest Children Advocates & Humanitarian Organization of RFC!
Indeed Jennifer Meeropol has the best compassionate leadership skills in times of crisis to improving lives of innocent, defenseless and vulnerable beneficiaries children in times of crisis. Her skills are combined with the highest ethical codes of integrity and standards.
Jennifer is always very caring and has genuine interests and feelings for other people's struggles. She has the ability to understand the needs of others, and is aware of their situations, feelings and thoughts. She is a kind of leader that always strives to makes an effort in not only comprehending what they are going through but also resolving and offer supports and help.
Dear Jennifer, we, your client's vulnerable children and their targeted parents are forever grateful to you and all others at greatest public servants and child advocates at the RFC.
Our 3-special needs minor autistic children are very blessed that they are merely 3-children among thousands of other very satisfied and forever grateful grant recipient clients of THE MOST GREATEST America's charity organization of "Rosenberg Fund For Children">
We, as the disabled parents of our much beloved 3-children I had been all along for many years very observant and have been witnessing of all the supports and services that this THE MOST GREATEST America's charity organization of "Rosenberg Fund For Children" have been achieving and providing to the most vulnerable children through their MOST admirable America's charity organization through their totally praiseworthy missions, goals and objectives.
Dear Jennifer, many many thanks what you and all others RFC heroes stands for, have done, are doing and will surely continue to be doing.
May GOD continue blessing you and all your whole beautiful families.
Parents, B.A.S & M.D.S. (and, 3-children) Springfield, MA