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.

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