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.


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Inclusionary Zoning/Affordable Housing and the Mayor

On Wednesday, April 6 I was part of a delegation to meet with Mayor Villaraigosa to press the cause for work force housing in Los Angeles. The mayor has made this a part of his goals for the city since he took office. For the first time it appears that there is support and mommentum to actually pass an inclusionary zoning ordinance for Los Angeles! Should this happen, Los Angeles will join with great cities throughout the world that have such ordinances including London, Paris, New York, San Francisco and Chicago.

The goal of the ordinance is to enable middle class workers to live nearer to their workplaces, thus reducing traffic, air polution and congestion as well as to make life more liveable for these essential workers. Currently thousands must travel long distances from home to work or are forced to live in substandard housing. I encountered the harsh reality of that first hand when I spoke to one of the members of our delegation. She is a housing activist and also a personal assistant employed with a company that provides services to celebrities. Joanna is a single mom who has worked in that field for 15 years and still must live in a one bedroom apartment that she shares with her 8 year old daughter -- often she's one paycheck away from affording her rent.

Fifteen of us from a variety of organizations heard the mayor say that the time is ripe and he wants to get the legislation passed by the end of June (this legislative session). When he heard about the work that our Affordable Housing Network at Stephen S. Wise is doing, he said that we could quite possibly make the difference between success and failure. Because we have incorporated real estate developers into our network and they are interested in acheiving meaningful solutions the situation is more hopeful than it has been in the past. The state of the economy and the general depression in the building industry also makes meaningful legislation possible.

This Tuesday advocates for the cause will be meeting downtown to discuss strategies for gaining broadbased support for a meaningful change. Hopefully some of our housing advocates will join me for the meeting! In addition, I've asked the Southern California Board of Rabbis to host a session for area rabbis to increase rabbinic awareness of this issue. A number of speakers will address the rabbis and encourage them to advocate in their communities. This is a complex issue and rabbis may not be experts on the financial aspects of real estate development but we can certainly challenge developers, neighborhood groups and regional chambers of commerce to see the moral justification for legislation and minimize opposition they might present. A resolution will be presented to the Board of Rabbis for consideration in support of inclusionary zoning/workforce housing proposals.

For any who might be policy wonks -- see the mayor's plan here.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Chag Sameach -- Happy Pesach!

As you all gather around your Seder tables I hope that your years spent deepening your own knowledge and commitment to Judaism make the experience that much more meaningful.

May the Haggadah's story that immerses us in the historical memory of our people evoke a renewed consciousness of the place that our people have in human destiny. As you recite the words: Avadim Hayinu -- we were slaves, may you come to believe that our collective memory of the chains of slavery compells us to unshackle any in our own society who are bound by economic, medical, environmental and yes physical bonds so that we can one day celebrate Pesach knowing that all are truly free in this world.

Chag Sameach,

Rabbi Ron Stern and the Social Justice Leadership Team

Thursday, April 2, 2009

An Encounter Between the Leadership Teams: Boyle Heights and Stephen S. Wise

Written by Melissa Benton Corleto

Last night six members of the Social Justice Leadership Team (including Rabbi Stern) traveled to Boyle Heights to visit the Dolores Mission and meet with some of its members. Our journey was a mere 14 miles, and only took us twenty minutes (it’s true, everywhere in L.A. takes twenty minutes), but Boyle Heights probably seems very far for most of us.

When we arrived, we were taken on a tour of the church and school. We visited chapels, classrooms, a student-created vegetable garden, administrative offices, and living quarters for the fifty men who are temporary residents of the Mission. Each of the facilities is immaculately maintained, and immediately makes visitors feel welcome.

The Dolores Mission and school are surrounded by “projects”; however these are not the graffiti-covered, crumbling high-rises that you might be picturing. They are known as “casitas”, small townhouses whose manicured gardens and fresh paint reflect a strong pride of ownership.

At 7:30 our bilingual, bi-denominational meeting began. We began with prayers and ice-breaker activities, which allowed us to get to know each other. Everyone was warm and friendly, and it hardly felt like a first encounter.

Then it was down to business. We discussed our definitions of community, why we are proud of our communities, and the issues facing our communities. Through our discussion, it became evident that there are several connections between the Stephen S. Wise and Boyle Heights The discussion was honest, and people shared true concerns and hopes about their churches, synagogues, families, neighborhoods, and city. Each group is concerned about jobs, health care, and education. It turns out both groups also really like tamales. communities.

Our next step is to identify how our interdependent relationship will allow us to create positive change in our communities.