Interfaith Organizing in Cleveland, a Fain Award Perspective

November 14, 2017Christine Weiss

My involvement with Greater Cleveland Congregations (GCC) began before the organization was officially formed. I was fortunate enough to get in on the ground floor and take advantage of substantial community organizing training with fellow congregants, Rabbi Josh Caruso and other members of our local community. Those who attended this training would eventually join forces with thousands of others in the greater Cleveland community to form GCC. GCC is now a non-partisan coalition of faith communities and partner organizations in Cuyahoga County working together to build power for social justice.

The most important lesson that I’ve learned through my involvement is that personal relationships matter. There is no substitute for meeting a person, one-on-one, hearing their concerns, and mutually recognizing each other’s humanity. Once that level of respect is reached, trust can be built, and change can happen. Our community uses one to one meetings to create deep relationships and engage others in our social justice work. The result - a cultural shift that remains today. 

My GCC training and experience have helped me to assist our members engage in existing work, think about starting their own initiatives, or work with them to begin a personal journey of discovery and understanding of specific issues. Our clergy and other leaders of our community use their training to steer our congregation along the path of social justice.

As a result of our congregation’s involvement in GCC, members of our community are more engaged and we have established meaningful relationships with other community organizers across the country. Together, we have gained power as a people that speaks up for the most vulnerable among us and we show up for issues of education, employment, health care, criminal justice, sustainable food and gun violence.  

Make no mistake - the work we have learned to do is not without controversy or asking others to push their own personal boundaries. And that too, is happening here at Fairmount Temple. Some in our community have backed away from some of GCC’s pursuits, concerned about engaging in controversial issues. Our congregation is learning how to confront these challenges. Social Justice is not an easy pursuit, but it is with the strength of the personal relationships that our congregation has built across lines of difference throughout the county that our work is both possible and powerful.

Christine Weiss is a current Vice President of the Board of Trustees and Chair of Social Action at Fairmount Temple in Beachwood. She and her husband David both grew up in Northeast Ohio and have raised three children at Fairmount Temple. Christine is currently a CASA in Geauga County and works part time for a local magazine. She and her weimaraner Rosie are avid runners.

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