The artwork on this note card was created by 5768 WRJ Art Calendar artist Césan d’Ornellas Levine.
When Abraham is chosen by God to bring blessing into the world, we don’t know why. We only learn a remarkable insight into God’s thinking chapters later, when God is musing to Godself about whether to discuss the challenges of society with him. There God says: “For I have selected him [Abraham] so that he may instruct his children and his posterity after him to keep God’s ways: to do what is just and right [tzedakah u’mishpat]. - Genesis 18:19.
From the days of Abraham, our purpose is to do what is just and right and to be engaged in the challenges of society. But, since last year’s presidential election, it seems to have become taboo in some congregations to speak proudly and clearly of this heritage. In order not to offend, we shy away from speaking our Jewish values. We confuse our moral voice with partisan politics. We think that our words will be mistaken for supporting particular politicians instead of values, issues, and policies. We forget that policies benefit from civil debate from people with diverse opinions.
That is why this past June at my congregation, Mount Zion Temple in St. Paul, Minnesota, our Board members spent time talking in small groups about our personal motivations to make this world better for ourselves and future generations. Then we read the Brit Olam which had been prepared by our President, clergy, and Tzedek committee. After conversation about how the Brit Olam clarifies what we are doing and what we are not doing, the Board passed it unanimously.
And then on Rosh Hashanah, I was able to let all our congregants know that our Board had signed onto the Brit Olam and thus committed to fostering a culture of sacred and civil dialogue in our congregation where all opinions are heard, grounding any action in our texts and values, acting in solidarity with vulnerable communities, and building relationships across lines of difference in our local community. With the Brit Olam, we have an agreed-upon text that grounds our social justice conversations and action as a congregation. Already it has been referenced by Board members as a frame for talking about issues that have arisen. The most referenced line is “In keeping with eternal Jewish tradition, we commit to lead our congregation in advancing Jewish values in the public sphere.”
The Brit Olam originated to remind us of this purpose to be engaged with the public square, to affirm and move forward on the Union for Reform Judaism’s focus on Tikkun Olam as part of its 2020 Vision Statement, and to help congregations articulate this message of rooting action in Jewish values to their congregants. And together with resources from the Religious Action Center, we will receive support to actualize what we committed to doing.
Whether you sign on to participate in the Religious Action Center’s Urgency of Now campaigns or not, your community can use Brit Olam as a tool to start and conversations around what you are doing to support vulnerable populations. Across the country, synagogue boards that have already signed on to the Brit Olam feel the power of being part of a movement that is actually making progress. For those congregations who do not feel they need Brit Olam to do this work, our Movement needs you!
At the upcoming URJ Biennial, we will honor and celebrate the over 100 Brit Olam congregations that have come together to affirm this central Jewish message, all dedicating themselves to act powerfully and together as a movement to bring upon the world we want. If we want America to espouse the values that have been so beneficial to our Jewish community over the past generations, if we want to stand as a Movement in support of disadvantaged populations, we need hundreds of congregations more to join us.
Rabbi Adam Stock Spilker has served Mount Zion Temple in St. Paul, Minnesota for twenty years. He met his wife Cantor Rachel Stock Spilker when they were both Legislative Assistants at the Religious Action Center. They have three children, Eiden, Mirit, and Liam.
The Brit Olam, or Covenant with Our World, was launched by the Religious Action Center in May, 2017 for Reform Movement congregations to come together and commit to acting powerfully and together to bring upon the world we want. Through this blog series, we will be featuring the voices of congregational leaders who have strengthened their communities through signing onto the Brit Olam. For more information and resources on how to bring the Brit Olam to your congregation, visit our website at www.rac.org/britolam, and join our conversation in the Tent by using #BritOlamCongregation.