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- Solicit congregants’ social action stories to find important themes and interests.
- Involve congregants in creating the social action curriculum for the synagogue.
- Engage congregants in social justice work that has meaning to them.
Clergy and laypeople developed a strategic plan to infuse the key facets of synagogue life (including life-cycle events, youth education, adult learning, worship, and the capital campaign) with social justice learning and action. In order to meet these goals, the synagogue’s board hired a staff organizer to conduct an advocacy campaign focused on shared concerns of social justice.
The synagogue launched an eight-week community-building campaign focused on social justice. More then 120 members participated in twelve house meetings, designed to identify and develop congregants’ social justice stories. These stories highlighted the issues about which the members felt passionately, and having discussed their stories through Ohel Tzedek, they discovered shared values and concerns.
The campaign culminated during the congregational Pesach seder, when 220 members gathered around a twelve-foot-tall Tent of Justice, a display that was adorned with illustrated examples of the members’ social justice stories. The Social Action Strategic Committee developed initiatives based on the members’ collective narratives. These initiatives included providing affordable housing, improving public education, fighting for equal rights for the gay and lesbian community, health care advocacy, supporting Israel, and caring for senior citizens. Members formed chevres (groups), which work toward their specific mandates. For example, the senior citizens chevre addresses pressing transportation needs, while the affordable housing chevre advocates for city and state governmental support.
Hundreds of members have participated in this campaign to improve living conditions for the larger community. The synagogue was able to integrate Ohel Tzedek into the religious school and bar/bat mitzvah curriculum. Ohel Tzedek is continually growing and changing as more congregants enter the tent to share their commitment to social action. This program led to the creation of Just Congregations, an initiative of the Union for Reform Judaism whose primary goal is to engage and train Reform synagogues in congregation-based community organizing, while simultaneously strengthening the congregations. More information about Just Congregations may be found at http://urj.org/justcongregations.