I began working with JCUA’s police accountability organizing efforts two years ago in order to express my Jewish values – the primary importance of good deeds, taking a stand against acts of injustice, caring for the stranger in our midst – and felt fortunate to find JCUA just before the election debacle that put the current occupant of the White House in office. I chose to work through JCUA due to its urban focus and because I started my career as a community development professional. I felt fortunate to get involved just when social justice for Jews and all Americans became so urgent the face of this climate of fear, overt threats and transgressions.
But even as my involvement with JCUA deepened, I perceived a missing link between my JCUA activities and the social justice actions of my congregation, Beth Emet. It turns out that I was not alone in feeling the need to connect my congregation with JCUA, so when Anna Rubin announced in the June JCore meeting that she and Marla Bramble intended to organize a “Summit” of JCUA’s member congregations, twelve other attendees and I jumped at the opportunity to become “core” event organizers. The concept was to convene members of each of JCUA’s 11 congregational partners to share our mutual perspectives about and efforts for social action.
Over the next 4 months, with Anna’s able guidance, we carefully planned all aspects of the Summit, including location, timing, agenda, speakers, and attendees. First, we each compiled a list of 5-8 invitees per congregation and sought commitments from our Rabbis to attend. Next we mapped out the agenda, including introductions, sharing of self-interests and experiences, small group breakout discussions on organizing topics, and a final planning session for congregational groups to establish next steps for future work with JCUA. Once we had the plan outlined, we actively and repeatedly followed up with our invitees to ensure their participation in the Summit. And we found that there was a great deal of interest in the Summit from our congregational partners.
On October 21, at Anshe Emet synagogue, all our planning and organizing bore fruit. Over 80 participants from 11 congregations, including 10 of our Rabbis, gathered to share our perspectives and interests in promoting social justice actions, organizing ideas and methods, and our goals to deepen our impact. As members arrived, Anshe Emet’s halls buzzed with greetings and small talk. The first half of the event focused on introductions for our congregations and presentations by JCUA members and partner organizations, culminating in a brief presentation by Rabbi Andrea London (Beth Emet) and Reverend Samuel Paul (board member at Community Renewal Society and an Associate Pastor at Greater Pleasant Green M.B. Church), who described the ways that congregational organizing builds broad coalitions of activists from across the communities of Chicago and beyond. During the second half of the event, we divided into 4 focus group sessions that addressed immigration, police accountability, cross-congregational organizing methods and social justice programs for teens. Finally, we returned to the main room and met within our congregational groups to discuss what actions we wanted to take as a congregation to move our issues forward.
I witnessed tremendous energy, enthusiasm and a deep collective well of experience coming together in support of promoting our social justice work and expanding our impact through greater coordination of our efforts in congregations and with JCUA. And we agreed to hold a follow-up meeting in the near future to explore building further on this Summit and the new inter-congregational connections that we are forging. While we clearly have work to do for the next steps on the journey, I am optimistic about the energy that I felt for broadening our coalition and expanding our impact.
My heartfelt thanks for Anna and Marla as well as the other core Summit organizers for encouraging and facilitating this new channel for pursuing social justice by JCUA and its members.
There will be a follow up gathering for our Hineinu Congregation Summit on Monday, Dec 17 at 6:00 pm at SketchPad (4700 N Ravenswood). We’ll continue to build relationships across congregations and think about the next concrete, strategic actions congregations can take with one another and with JCUA. Reach out to Anna (firstname.lastname@example.org) to RSVP and learn more.