“I need you to show up in Trenton.” Those eight simple words are how it all started. In 2006, State Senator Loretta Weinberg shared these words with a group of New Jersey Reform Jews at the URJ Biennial. She was reflecting on the Reform Movement’s values of welcoming the stranger and helping the most vulnerable in our communities. Senator Weinberg said that if putting these values into practice was what we desired in New Jersey, then we needed to be present at the State Capitol. We had to build relationships with our state legislators and find partners who were advocating for a more just and compassionate state.
Senator Weinberg charged us to show up. That is why Reform Jewish Voice of New Jersey (RJVNJ) was formed. Built on the work by URJ regional board member Jeff Willard to identify social justice legislation in New Jersey, RJVNJ was created so New Jersey’s Reform Jews could unite to take action and have a voice in our state for the policies and values our movement stands for nationally.
We showed up by standing side by side with our social justice partners from across the state. We fought for paid sick leave. We sat at the table as we discussed ways to improve access to healthcare. We held hands at vigils as we mourned those killed by gun violence. We rallied for cleaner air and water in our poisoned urban neighborhoods. And we stood in solidarity in support of those separated from their families, detained for seeking asylum in the United States.
We showed up at our legislators’ offices. From southern, to central, to northern New Jersey we have shared our stories, our values, and our faith with our elected officials. We gathered in Trenton for our annual advocacy days, joining with Reform Jews from across the state and representing over 25 Reform congregations. Our voices can be amplified when we are together and we can strengthen that impact when we continue to call, write, and build relationships with our legislators.
We showed up this past winter as we celebrated our most recent legislative wins. We watched those on parole and probation have their voting rights restored and undocumented individuals gain the ability to apply for a New Jersey state driver’s license. We marched, rallied, repeatedly met with our legislators, organized an interfaith clergy sign-on letter, and learned from our neighbors and allies who showed up in Trenton week after week for years to finally gain the right to drive in New Jersey.
And we will show up (virtually) on August 6 at 7:30 p.m. for the launch of the New Jersey Religious Action Center (RAC-NJ) as we write the next chapter of Reform Jewish advocacy in New Jersey. We will build off the successes and the partnerships that we have created over the past 14 years and take our advocacy and our alliances to the next level. We will formally welcome our tremendous state organizer Sarah Blaine, and we will welcome YOU to join us in the work ahead. RAC Director Rabbi Jonah Pesner and others will inspire, teach, and connect us through the power of online organizing via Zoom. Register now to “show up” on August 6. The time to act is now.