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Fain Honorable Mention: God’s To-Do List

God's To-Do List

May. 14, 2009

Congregation asks: If God made a to-do list tailored to your individual talents and skills, what would be on that list?

 

Community Contact Information:

Temple Israel

Omaha, NE

www.templeisrael-ne.org

 

Goals:

  • A comprehensive, meaningful, challenging, fun and engaging social action program for the year.
  • A program to converge with the themes of our High Holidays, and to create a culture that connects the BEING of Jewish to the DOING of social action.
  • To create a set of tools to identify our shared goals, identify community partners, schedule and implement projects based on local economic, demographic, community resources, and relationships to mobilize our congregants to service.

 

Overview:

God’s To-Do List is the catalyst between our theological ideals and the opportunities for action in our daily lives. The program is a “menu” of over thirty social action opportunities during the period of Yom Kippur through the end of April.

Community organizing principles taught us to “hear” the voice of the congregation in order to be effective by connecting the BEING of Jewish to the DOING of social action. The goal of this initiative is to challenge congregants to match the spiritual and theological messages of the High Holidays with social action.

 

Preparation:

Dr. Ron Wolfson helped launched this year’s social justice initiative through his D’var Torah, entitled “God’s To Do List: How to be an Angel and Do God’s Work on Earth,” which was delivered on Rosh Hashanah.

Community partners were identified to help the congregation take action on various issues. Congregants build relationships and got involved in a variety of efforts to meet the immediate needs in the area and around the world. Projects ranged from housing and homelessness to Darfur, social services to Nothing But Nets, education to environment.

Borrowing from the Just Congregation model, the strategy included gathering and analyzing information, enabling us to successfully set criteria to prioritize programming goals.

The marketing strategy began by creating interest via a survey in which we mentioned that a larger project was coming. The initiative was cleverly packaged combining inspirational letters, Wolfson’s book, and the “To Do” List. The effort to get the word out was supported using phone calls, word of mouth, direct mail, sermons, newsletters, e-newsletters, a website, community newspaper and a blog.

 

Project Implementation:

Three focus areas were identified: healthcare, poverty, racial diversity & religious diversity which became the basis for God’s To-Do List. Projects were determined/ filtered based on the following:

  • Does the project directly address one or more of our focus areas: healthcare, poverty, racial diversity, and religious diversity?
  • Is this something the congregation will get behind?
  • Does it have the possibility of growing into something larger?
  • Is it fun?
  • Does it involve other community members besides Temple?

The month before Rosh Hashanah, the social action committee compiled this information for the congregation in a understandable, accessible and interesting format. Social action committee members took responsibility for various projects: arranging partnerships, identifying additional leadership and coordinating programming. Realizing that justice comes in many forms (lobbying Congress, serving at a homeless shelter, or donating money) and broke down the To-Do list into three categories: Volunteer, Attend, Donate. Congregants were challenged to take part in at least three (3) items from the list, and hopefully mark at least one that is attend, one that is participate and one that is donate.

A few weeks before Rosh Hashanah, the project was explained to the synagogue board for feedback and to find leaders for various projects. Playing on the idea of synagogue “dues,” congregants were asked to give Do’s as part of their Dues, thus putting our theology into action.

The program “menu,” Dr. Ron Wolfson’s book and perforated sheets of God’s To-Do List was sent to every congregational family just before Rosh Hashanah. The congregants were asked to read the book during the High Holidays and to complete the To-Do List and return it on Yom Kippur. The staff and the committee set up a system to communicate specific event information and follow up with congregants as the programming began.

 

Results:

This effort has impacted our congregation. Once we identified common goals we realized we improved our communication while implementing those goals. We faced challenges by directly addressing areas of struggle and growth, another skill we learned from principles of community organizing.

Our alliances with community organizations helped teach the congregation about social problems and Jewish values. As a result of God’s To-Do List, congregants are more willing to participate in programs and activities that they might not have otherwise.

In actualizing this project, we have struggled to overcome several barriers:

  • Many congregants already engage in personally meaningful tzedakah opportunities. A key focus of God’s To-Do List is to navigate the tension between honoring the existing commitments while also challenging ourselves to participate in Temple’s institutionally sponsored activities.
  • As we strive to change the culture of social action there is an imperative need for transparent mutual communication with staff, lay leadership, the congregation and the greater community.
  • God’s To-Do List enabled us to create a set of tools to identify our shared goals, identify community partners, schedule and implement projects based on local economic, demographic, and community resources, while fostering relationships.

 

The Discovery of New Leadership and Participation

There are many congregants who have helped organize some of our To-Do List items who have never before been active in Temple related Social Action programming. As we start talking about ‘next year’ they will serve as a base for new leadership and ideas.

Youth participation Several Bar/Bat Mitzvah students have mentioned God’s To-Do List in their personal Divrei Torah. Our High School Youth Group (OTYG) has taken it upon themselves to create their own God’s To-Do List, centering on creating a “greener” environment, both at Temple and out in the community. Before Rosh Hashanah, OTYG were able to get approximately 1,000 cloth bags donated to Temple. The congregation used those cloth bags to collect over 5,000 pounds of canned items for our local Food Bank. At several times during the year, members of OTYG have spoken from the bima about Tikkun Olam and their part in fulfilling God’s To-Do List.

 

Religious School

Our religious school has worked with the Social Justice Committee in creating opportunities that help compliment some of those on the To-Do List. As an example, a month after Rosh Hashanah the 5th grade religious school class visited the food bank and experientially grasped the impact and meaning of Temple’s donations.

 

Energy

In addition to the tangible successes of the program, there is an excitement that has been built up around God’s To-Do List. We are confidant and hopeful that this excitement will lead to further growth and success as we go forward into next year and beyond.

 

Team of Rivals

One of the strengths of our Social Justice Committee is that it is made up of a “team of rivals.” From the inception of the program, we have always tried to create programs that aren’t based on our personal priorities and interests, but the congregation’s. The diversity of the Social Justice Committee is definitely an aid to achieving this goal.

 

Community Event

On April 19, we are partnering with our local JCC to sponsor a community benefit 3 on 3 Basketball Tournament for Nothing But Nets. The projected expense for this event is $8000. Expenses and proceeds will be shared equally with the JCC. Our portion of the proceeds will go to URJ’s Nothing but Nets campaign. We hope to raise at least $3000 for the fight against Malaria. This event showcases the diversity of partnerships we have made combining all four of our focus topics (healthcare, poverty, racial diversity, religious diversity).