Taking on Social Justice

By: Abby Bellows
This article was inspired by a workshop Abby offered at the 2009 NHC Summer Institute.

Many of our communities value tikkun olam (repairing the world), syphilis either reflected in actions taken by the community as a whole or in the professional and volunteer choices made by individual members.

Are there reasons to take on social justice work as a whole community?

Yes! There is a need for communities like ours (mainly of highly educated, purchase white voters) to be vocal in fighting poverty and other social dilemmas; we can experience a sense of fulfilment from helping and working alongside others; it can build relationships and unity within our own community; and some of us are excited to engage in something other than our jobs. Social justice is part of our Jewish tradition and it’s a great way to foster a positive image of Jews in our cities and counties, medicine where many of the oppressive landlords, employers, and officials happen to be Jews.

So what is social justice work?

It addresses the root causes of issues faced by “us” and “them,” developing relationships and leadership in the process.

What are the challenges of doing social justice work with your minyan or havurah and how do we deal with them?

  1. Some people don’t feel that they have relevant skills, or are intimidated by the scale of the problems. This evokes Ruth Messinger’s quote, “We cannot retreat into the convenience of being overwhelmed.” We can always start somewhere.
  2. There are diverse political perspectives within some communities. So when bankers and social workers can come together on good davening (praying), why cause rifts by divisive conversation? One response to this is to find and talk about the points we can all agree on (public education perhaps, or responses to homelessness).
  3. Some communities engage a lot of people who do this kind of work by day and aren’t looking to do more on the weekends and at night. They want their prayer community to be just that. This can be handled by identifying other people in the community who might be interested or who could engage through different modes than they do by day.

However another response to these challenges involves a paradigm shift. Instead of “doing” social justice, how can we integrate it into everything our community does?

An old model for thinking about social justice might have looked like this:

  1. a few people “do” social justice;
  2. they plan an event to “do” social justice (such as a food drive at Yom Kippur);
  3. they fulfil their obligation to “do” social justice;
  4. they have helped “others”.

Instead, a model for social justice could look like this:

  1. everyone is involved (those who set the dues structure use a sliding scale proportional to people’s incomes; those who organize the Kiddush (light meal after prayers) use re-usable dishes; divrei Torah (words of Torah) often connect to socially relevant issues, etc.;
  2. social justice is all of the time;
  3. social justice is continual;
  4. we are helping ourselves as well as helping others (this could look like working on issues that concern our lives – such as affordable rent, student loans, and healthcare – and also impact on our broader community). Motivate people through their personal narratives. Ask your havurah or minyan community what they struggle with and are excited about improving in our lives.

Some examples of social justice in minyans or havurahs:

  • Fabrangen (in Washington, DC) has short term events, builds longitudinal relationships, goes to protests, and has a sliding scale for membership dues.
  • Tikkun Leil Shabbat (in Washington DC) is an outgrowth of Jews United for Justice, and came with a stronger mission for combining social justice and Jewish prayer space. Every time they meet, they have a speaker from a local non-profit give the d’var tikkun (a talk on a social justice issue), which includes information about the organization and direct ways to take action. In addition, they focus on their environmental footprint by washing dishes instead of using disposables.
  • Kol Zimrah (in New York City) is working on greening their community by using reusable dishes and asking members to “BYOdishes”. They are considering giving a portion of their fundraising money to tzedakah (charity). But they also recognize that for most members, this is primarily a davening community, and members go elsewhere for social justice.
  • Hadar (in New York City) has anxiety about higher rents in shomer Shabbos (keeping the commandments of Shabbat, including being able to walk to davening) neighborhoods. They have channeled their anxiety into working on housing issues, through direct service (volunteering in a homeless shelter and building with Habitat for Humanity) as well as through advocating for legislation that will regulate rent.

Abby Bellows has attended numerous NHC Summer Institutes, and was co-chair in 2008.

December 26, 2009   2 Comments

Programming For the Havurah – Not Davening

By: Bob Freedman

Davening (prayer) havurot are defined by the need to sustain worship each time they meet. Non-davening havurot are different. Their “mission” is defined by their members – their ages, viagra 100mg family situation (children or not), pilule collective expertise, viagra and interests – and can include studying, celebrating holiday and life-cycle events, and more. You can use this guide for ideas to further your community’s programming.

A few guidelines:

  • Make programming only as complicated as there are people who are willing to organize it. If a suggested program attracts no volunteer coordinators, call for more ideas.
  • Use email to solicit input about programming so that a maximum number of people buy into it. One way to do this is to send out a message to the group giving three suggestions and let them vote.
  • Rotate hosts.
  • Serve food. The best strategy is to make this “Jewish potluck,” that is, whoever is the host for the program puts out a call for contributions, then makes more than necessary.

Programming Ideas

This is a huge topic. Please post your suggestions in the comments below. Here are some ideas to use as seeds. They have been divided into three areas of non-davening programming: holidays, study, and everything else.

Holidays:

  • Rosh Hashanah:
    • Share your dreams, hopes, and prayers for the New Year. Compile the prayers and give each family/individual a copy to recite at their erev Rosh Hashanah (eve of Rosh Hashanah) dinner.
    • Sponsor a “mikvah (ritual bath) morning” the Sunday before Rosh Hashanah in a member’s hot tub or pool. Ask people to share what they hope to wash away and to recite the traditional prayers before immersion.
    • In keeping with the theme of memory during the Musaf service of Rosh Hashanah (Zichronot), gather to share your Jewish memories.
    • Go apple picking at a local orchard to get apples for the holiday.
    • Create a Sefer Hayyim (Book of Life). Gather a lot of magazines. Provide an 11″x17″ piece of paper to each person, glue sticks, colored markers, and scissors. Ask each person to create a collage of pictures (or words) cut from the magazines that tells their memories of the past year. Bind the pages together with string, create a cover for the book, and display it at a meal or gathering for all to see.
  • Sukkot:
    • Find out where local produce farms are. Try to find one in each of the four directions. (If you wish, limit your search to organic producers.) Buy food from each one. Gather in a sukkah to wave the lulav and etrog in the directions of each of the farms and give each a blessing of fertility. Cook, serve, enjoy, and bless the food you bought from the farms.
    • Organize or participate in a local CROP Walk, often sponsored by Church World Service.
    • Host a Sukkot pumpkin-carving event. Encourage Jewish-themed carvings.
    • Arrange to go to local farms to glean the leftover produce and give it to the local food pantry.
    • Have a water fight in honor and memory of the water drawing ceremony (see Mishnah, Tractate Sukkah, 4:9 and following).
    • Divide the assembled people into small groups (2-3 people each). Ask each group to decide on three people to invite to the sukkah. They could be famous or not, Jewish or not. Go around the room and have each group tell whom they invited and their reasons.
    • Sponsor a traveling Sukkot party (moveable feast).
  • Hanukah:
    • Bring your menorah and tell its story.
    • Hanukah gift exchange.
    • Package gifts to go to a local holiday gift drive.
    • Have a sing down with songs that include the word light.
  • Shabbat:
    • Have a traditional Shabbat dinner in a member’s home. Provide food by potluck, “modified potluck” (main dishes catered or determined in advance and the rest of the food brought as attendants wish), or catered. Ask someone to lead singing.
    • Celebrate Havdalah and discuss the moments of separation in your lives.
  • Passover:
    • Sponsor a seder for your havurah. Rent a hall; assign people to bring food, assign parts of the seder to families or individuals, appoint an emcee.
    • Sponsor a matzah brei breakfast competition.

Study:

Other Programming:

  • Discuss “What did your parents teach you about telling the truth?”
  • Discuss, “Elohey Avraham, Elohey Yitzhak, vElohey Ya-akov (God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob); What did your parents teach you about God?”
  • Discuss names – how you are named, how you named your children, how you react to your name.
  • Discuss divided loyalties: Struggling with choosing from many different ways of being Jewish, especially when your choices may be different from what you grew up with.
  • Discuss the relation of religion to science.
  • Learn about the different branches of Judaism. Have one or two people research each branch and present the material that they found.
  • Have everyone bring at least two Jewish jokes or short funny readings.
  • Bring Jewish objects from your home. Tell their history and what they mean to you/how they connect you to Judaism.
  • Bring articles about religious issues from local or national periodicals and discuss the issues. Decide on discussion guidelines in advance; for example, no judgment, courteous and respectful speech, don’t say more than you mean.
  • Sponsor a Mitzvah Day. Find public projects that need doing – like working for the local food bank, cleaning the litter from the sides of a road, etc. Gather in the morning for bagels and a short moment of dedication, then send participants off to whatever project they want to do. Gather back in the afternoon to tell each other what happened and share more food.
  • Make candles for Shabbat, Hanukah, and Havdalah. Begin with a discussion of the ritual use of candles, the symbolism of light in Jewish observance and in other traditions.
  • Have an Israeli dinner. Use recipes from a Sephardi Jewish cookbook.
  • Go on a walking tour of the Lower East Side of NYC. See the Tenement Museum.
  • Go to the Jewish museums in your city or organize a field trip to a museum in a nearby city.
  • Ask participants to tell about their families of origin and their ancestors. Make explicit that this will include the non-Jewish families represented. Show pictures, tell stories, and bring objects.
  • Do Jewish arts and crafts activities: make challah covers, miniature sukkot, spice boxes, mezuzot, etc.
  • Hire someone to teach Israeli dances.
  • Watch Jewish movies and have a discussion afterwards.
  • Hire someone to teach how to make challah.

For suggestions about how to organize and present your programming to be both “green” and to reflect Jewish concepts of justice in the workplace go to Green & Just Celebrations. There you can download a booklet that, though written for the Washington, D.C. community, has many ideas that apply to other areas.

Bob Freedman has attended numerous NHC Summer Institutes. He is on the NHC Board of Directors.

December 26, 2009   1 Comment