The Social Justice Vision at Stephen S. Wise Temple

Our congregation will see Social Justice as a calling that derives from our sense of God and the imperative of Jewish Tradition. The Stephen S. Wise Temple community will use our influence, power and compassion to be a force for positive, meaningful and effective change in the quality of life on behalf of all the citizens of Los Angeles and the world.


Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Jewish Funds for Justice National Strategy Meeting

I just returned from a quick 36 hour visit to Temple Israel of Boston where a meeting of select leadership guiding Congregational Based Community Organizing around the country was convened.  Temple Israel is the congregation where it all essentially got started six years ago.  They were the first synagogue involved in interfaith, city/state-wide activism to address a societal issue.  Massachusetts is one of the few (if not the only) state in the nation to have near universal health care.  While it is by no means perfect. after spending some time with my college roommate who is a Boston area pulmonologist, it was clear that most doctors are both happy with the program and doing quite well financially. 

The meetings focused on developing a national strategy for expanding the place that Congregational Based Community Organizing (CBCO) has in the Jewish community.  I was invited to represent both Los Angeles and SSWT because the work that we are doing is pioneering.  Never before has a synagogue of our size and influence engage in this work in Los Angeles!  (Temple Judea, Temple Emanual, and IKAR are also involved at different levels in CBCO work.)

No major breakthroughs came from the session but it is quite incredible to hear about the work that other communities are doing and the successes (as well as challenges they face).  A few of the highlights:
  • The Jewish Community Relations Council of Boston has actually hired a Community Organizer to enhance the effectiveness of Jewish community organizing for social change
  • Boston is working to engage the youth through Youth Groups and confirmation programs in community organizing -- training the next generation's leaders
  • Despite the cutbacks at the URJ, the Just Congregations Department (leading CBCO work in the Reform Movement) remains fully funded because its work is so important
  • The economic chaos that our world is in, while painful for so many, has also motivated more people to engage in organizing for meaningful change.  Currently 100 synagogues from different denominations are involved in the same process that we at SSWT are undergoing.
  • CBCO work for change is SLOW it takes time to build the relationships between people that create the power necessary to identify issues and organize for change
  • The Los Angeles Jewish community will continue to be a priority of the URJ and Jewish Funds for Justice because of our size, potential and importance to the larger Jewish community and our nation.
Meanwhile at Stephen S. Wise:   Four more house meetings are planned before and after Pesach meaning that we'll have brought the challenge of CBCO to 200 members of our community.  We are hoping to pull all house meeting participants together for a "Town Meeting" by early June.  There, the Social Justice leadership team will facilitate organization around the issues that are realistic undertakings for the SSWT community in the next months.  Attendees at the Town Meeting will be invited to take a place "at the table" as we move our community towards action on issues that affect the quality of all of our lives as residents of this city.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Solving LA's Housing Crisis One Meeting at a Time!

Posted by Ron Stern

On Thursday, March 19th I joined a group of clergy, community activists and others for a meeting in Councilman Herb Wesson's office. Herb (as he invited all of us to call him) represents the 10th City Council District; see his web site here. He is chair of the Housing Committee of the City Council. As I have mentioned, there is a groundswell of activism for workforce affordable housing throughout the city and a large number of organizations are mobilizing their forces to pressure city hall for meaningful legislation. Many cities in California and across the country have such legislation on their books including San Francisco, Sacramento and West Hollywood.

Advocates are lobbying for a 25% affordable housing mandate either through actual units or in-lieu of payments for every housing unit built in Los Angeles. That is a significant request that may or may not make it through the legislative process. However, it is painful to hear about the tremendous challenges that confront nearly 75% of our citywide workforce that earns less than $50,000 per year for a family of four to find housing. You'll see that most of those people are full time workers employed in jobs such as teachers, receptionists, secretaries, social workers and even some nurses. These are people who work for and with many of us, certainly not anyone who we might look upon as "poor." The workforce housing intiative is not targeted for Section 8 (low income) housing either. The lack of affordable housing causes many workers to live in substandard units or at a great distance from their jobs adding to congestion and pollution when they commute to work. As citizens of this city and recognizing the Jewish imperative to care for the poor we as a synagogue must be part of the solution.

Fortunately, there are many real estate developers who are committed to doing their best to advocate for those solutions. Many of the most influential are members of Stephen S. Wise Temple. We have convened a committee of Real Estate professionals to provide a meaningful proposal to the ciy council that developers will support. In addition, some of our real estate professionals as well as representatives from the housing advocacy groups as well as the city are going to address the next meeting of the Southern California Board of Rabbis to raise this issue higher on the priorities of our city's rabbis. You should have seen Herb Wesson's eyes light up when he heard that members of the Stephen S. Wise community are actively seeking solutions for the crisis. He said: "If we are going to succeed, we need the Jewish community and other well-established members of Los Angeles to get involved."

If you have more questions or would like to participate in upcoming meetings for Workforce Housing, please let me know. Click here.

If no documents are visible below. Click here to view the documents.

Notice the symbol in the upper right window below to toggle to full screen for easier viewing. A note: "AMI" = adjusted median income: Affordable Housing Documents

Monday, March 2, 2009

The First Meeting of the Boyle Heights Professionals

Today, the key professionals working on the Boyle Heights project held their first meeting to discuss the partnership process.  It was quite an inspirational meeting as people who are passionate about the work that they do and inspired by their faith and commitment to making a difference in our community reflected on how that energy could be transformed into meaningful work.  Fifteen people sat around a table including leadership from the Dolores Mission School, staff from Proyecto Pastoral (the social services department of the Dolores Mission group including Cynthia Sanchez the executive director), staff from Dolores Mission (including Father Scott Santarosa) and, of course, the Stephen S. Wise contingent (yours truly, Dr. Susan Donner-Klein, Joey Freedman, Rose Reid) and finally to our great excitement, Margy Feldman the executive director of Jewish Big Brothers.  In addition, Jared Rivera (executive director) and Zach Hoover from LA Voice also provided their vital guidance. 

Our opening prayers reflected the fact that this was indeed a profound and ground-breaking undertaking.  Never before have two communities of faith, literally from opposite sides of town, attempted to develop a partnership committed to benefitting both communities.  It is vital that our Stephen S. Wise readers understand that this is indeed a cooperative venture where we stand to gain a great deal through our connections even as we give of our talents and energy to the residents of Boyle Heights.  They in turn will give of their skills, perspectives and cultural richness to us. 

When the time is right (read below to see what I mean) there is potential for Dr. Susan Donner Klein to launch parenting programs that not only give our counselors the chance to provide parenting support to residents of the community, but also engage potential parenting coaches in Boyle Heights in our work.  Together we'll work to strengthen an already cohesive and determined community.  Jewish Big Brothers and Big Sisters already trains our Milken Students to mentor elementary students at Stephen Wise Elementary School, these kids can bring their knowledge to Roosevelt High School and help JBBBS facilitate mentor training and partnerships for RHS kids and Dolores Mission elementary students.  There are so many other areas ripe for joint ventures, however, the path we take towards implementation is as important as the goal.

The community organizers in our group insisted upon a track that includes the building of relationships between our communities and engaging our Boyle Heights partners in the planning.  Just as the process at Stephen Wise cannot be "top down" so should the partnership between our communities resist top down planning.  So, to this end we are convening a SSWT Lay steering committee that will join with the parallel group from Boyle Heights to first, meet each other as fellow residents of LA and people of faith and second, develop the plan for what exactly where we should move the program forward and how.  We have assembled some important resources and they still be available to us, but the process of implementing the program depends upon cooperative planning.

I want to stress how vital this is for the development of power among the Boyle Heights residents.  It is critical that the leaders of their community are engaged in conversations about how the partnership will develop. It is not for professionals to suggest and it is not for SSWT members to implement alone. We must do it together and approach this on equal footing so that a true partnership develops. 

Will it be easy?  I doubt it. We come from different worlds in so many ways.  There are cultural, economic, geographic and language hurdles to overcome.  But that is what makes this challenge unique and potentially transformational for both communities.  Patience is critical as trust is developed and we learn to appreciate each other's strengths and potentials. 

I will be working to convene the Steering committee but if you are reading this and would like to join, please email me.  Click here.  Our first meeting of the joint committee from both communities will be April 1st at 7:30 p.m.

At the same time, Joey Freeman will be developing a partnership between our High School Students.  He is looking to revitalize the LA Youth Council (click here) and cannot do it without the participation of kids all around the city.  It turns out that he already has a relationship with some kids from Roosevelt High.  The groups will meet and discuss the partnerships and process they can undertake.  Adults might be present at this meeting, but ultimately this is kid driven.  Joey is a second semester senior, so he both has time on his hands and recognizes the need to bring in new leadership from Milken to carry on his work.