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Why we reaffirmed Brit Olam and you should too

Why we reaffirmed Brit Olam and you should too

Brit Olam

All good lessons bear repeating. We renew the cycle of reading Torah every Simchat Torah. We renew our covenant at Sinai every Shavuot. We renew our collective Jewish narrative of leaving Egypt every Pesach.

The Religious Action Center launched the Brit Olam in 2017. This “covenant with our world” was a renewal of our commitment to the most vulnerable in our communities. It was anchored in our Jewish values and stories beginning with Abraham, chosen by God “to do what is just and right” (Genesis 18:19).

In just two years, the clergy and lay leaders of over 200 congregations across North America have signed the Brit Olam and joined this covenant. Clergy and lay leaders have used the Brit Olam to show their congregations that they are part of a sacred, 3,000 year old tradition of justice. By signing the Brit Olam, they are affirming the Reform Movement’s core belief that while civil discourse was and remains a hallmark of Judaism, diverse political opinions should not be a stumbling block to acting together for the common good.

And now, as we begin a new year, there are new Board members. Every year new leaders emerge, and sometimes people forget.

In 2017, Mount Zion Temple first signed the Brit Olam. In June 2018, we simply reviewed the document. Upon further reflection, in 2019 we brought the Brit Olam to our June Board meeting, and, together, read aloud a d’var Torah and the language of the Brit Olam to ensure that it was appreciated and understood by new board members. We realized that even though the Brit Olam is now on our website, most in our congregation have never seen it there, so the Board also recommended publishing the Brit Olam in our bulletin (p. 18). Recognizing that a more direct approach is needed, we plan to have our new board re-visit the sacred words of the Brit Olam every June.

The Brit Olam is not a sacred, ancient text, but it is our Reform Movement’s common language for affirming our sacred responsibility to “Learn to do good. Devote [ourselves] to justice; Aid the wronged. Uphold the rights of the orphan; Defend the cause of the widow.” (Isaiah 1:17).

And for this reason alone, it bears repeating.

Why reaffirm the Brit Olam even after you adopted it?

  • To be most effective in communicating with our leaders, the RAC needs updated contact information for your Brit Olam points of contact. Fill out this form to add new leaders to the Brit Olam network. Alternately, email Elizabeth Leff (eleff@rac.org) to find out who else from your community is on our list (your original Brit Olam signers plus other leaders you may have added) or if you would like to remove someone from the list.
  • Some of your leaders have never heard of the Brit Olam! Bring the Brit to Board meetings as part of leadership training. Read the text aloud as a springboard to discuss social justice work in the congregation. Affirm that your congregation is part of over 200 congregations across the Reform Movement and that the values of the Brit are millennia old. Talk about the importance of sacred, civil discourse and that commitment to social justice is rooted in our enduring Jewish texts and values.
  • Consider publishing the Brit Olam text with your own context and commentary in your congregation’s publications.

Rabbi Adam Stock Spilker has served Mount Zion Temple in St. Paul, MN for 20 years. He met his wife Cantor Rachel Stock Spilker when they were both Legislative Assistants at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. They have three children, Eiden, Mirit, and Liam.

Rabbi Adam Stock Spilker

Published: 9/17/2019