October 25, 2014 · 1 Cheshvan

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A Message to New Social Action Chairs

On this website you will find information that will be helpful to you in developing your congregation’s social action program. Social Action committees in Reform synagogues generally involve themselves in several types of activities:

  • Educational and liturgical programs (lectures and adult education programs on social justice themes; special social justice-oriented religious services);
  • Tzedakah projects that raise funds for worthy causes such as forming a congregational team for an AIDS walk or collecting funds and items for local charitable causes;
  • Interreligious and intergroup relations programs (meetings and dialogues with church groups and local Muslims, and with Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, American Indians, and other ethnic groups);
  • Social service programs (food distribution, housing programs, soup kitchens and other “hands-on” activities that provide direct assistance to the needy of your community);
  • Advocacy programs (efforts to change local, state, and national laws or to support the adoption of new laws for the purpose of furthering social justice)

In the long run, a good social action program will be involved in all of these areas. In the short term, particularly when a social action program is just getting under way, what is most important is to begin somewhere - to choose one or two programs in any of the above areas, to run them successfully, and to demonstrate to members of the committee and of the synagogue that it is indeed possible to have an impact on people’s lives. In developing a social action program in your synagogue, we suggest that you review carefully the enclosed material, and keep in mind the following:

  1. Try to involve as many people as possible in social justice work, even if it is only for a few hours per year. The social action committee members should try not to become the congregational surrogates, “doing good” while everyone else looks on. For ideas on how to broaden your ranks, see the enclosed piece on volunteer recruitment strategies.
  2. Talk to your rabbi and bulletin editor about a regular column in your Temple Bulletin on social action matters. Materials that you will receive from the Commission on Social Action and the Religious Action Center will often be suitable for publication in your Temple bulletin.
  3. Probably the most useful tool for a new social action chairperson is Lirdof Tzedek, the manual for social action committees by Evely Laser Shlensky and Rabbi Marc Israel. It is available through the URJ Press, and is a wonderful resource (http://www.urjpress.com).
  4. K’hilat Tzedek is a discussion guide intended to help congregations through a process of reflection to determine where their social action programs fit into the scheme of congregational life, and how they can become models of integrated, justice-seeking congregations. To order a free copy of the guide, call the Commission on Social Action at 212.650.4162 or email csarj@urj.org. It is also available to download electronically at www.urj.org/socialaction.
  5. Remember that your social action committee is a religious body, formed to respond to the mandates of Jewish tradition. Your social justice work should be placed in an appropriate context by being connected to Jewish themes and holidays; for example, food collection can be tied to Rosh Hashanah and to the harvest festival of Sukkot. The Commission on Social Action has developed Holiday Guides, which can assist you in connecting social action to Jewish holidays, found at www.rac.org/pubs/. Be conscious of the need to make Jewish connections for members of your committee. Talk with your rabbi about the possibility of holding an annual Social Action Shabbat, and consider using the Social Action Blessing Cards (which can be ordered from the Commission on Social Action) before meetings and events.
  6. The Commission on Social Action has an initiative to engage Reform Jews throughout North America in efforts to ameliorate poverty, and has developed many resources for this Poverty Initiative, which can be accessed through the Commission on Social Action website. These resources include a calendar for a year-long focus on poverty, advocacy opportunities and program ideas that relate to poverty. Social Action packets on various aspects of this issue are being released periodically and posted on this site as well.
  7. As chair, keep abreast of important legislation and program ideas through the internet. Go to the Religious Action Center (RAC) site at www.rac.org and sign-up for RACNEWS, the Social Action discussion list and the RAC’s Advocacy Network.
  8. Remember the youth of your congregation. Whenever possible, involve the youth group in your program, and talk to the rabbi and religious school director about incorporating social justice projects into the religious school curriculum.
  9. The Religious Action Center website (www.rac.org) has a great deal of programmatic information available to assist you in your planning. You might consider perusing the program bank of social action projects done by congregations around the country as well as the list of Fain Award winners. The Fain Award is given biannually at the Consultation on Conscience to congregations that have superior, and replicable, social action projects. Tzedek V’Shalom, the Commission’s newsletter, also contains useful programming information.

Once a month, the Commission on Social Action sends an e-mail to congregational social action chairs to highlight new and timely program ideas. If you are not receiving these messages, please send your contact information to the Commission at csarj@urj.org so we can get you into our database. Also, please note that each region of the Union for Reform Judaism has a regional social action chair, who may be helpful to you in identifying local projects and issues in which to be engaged. We also ask that you let us know what you are planning. Please share with us your successes so that we in turn can share them with others!

We wish you success in this important and exciting undertaking.

Naomi Abelson
Social Action Specialist, Union for Reform Judaism




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