Reported by Diane Kabat
Throughout Jewish literature, we are called to tear down the walls that silent the voices of the poor. A Talmudic story tells of a righteous man who was on such a high level that Elijah the Prophet visited him regularly. One day, this righteous man built a gate in front of his courtyard. The cries of the needy were shutout, and Elijah the Prophet ceased visiting him. By shutting himself away from the poor, he blocked the gate between heaven and earth.
Our society as well has put up gates that prevent these cries for help from being heard, especially in our cities divided by neighborhood boundaries, language, and culture. With the advent of the Internet and the immediacy for global news, we hear more about impoverished areas in Southeast Asia, Central and South America, or Africa before we "see" that which is before us.
On Sunday afternoon, May 31, Rabbi Stern opened a conference of over 100 Los Angeles community leaders at the Hollywood 7th Day Adventist Church with this story and message from the Talmud. Nearly 20 faith-based-groups affiliated with LA Voice PICO were represented as we assembled for this bi-annual Leadership Assembly to strengthen our bond with other religions and ethnicities in our greater L.A. community.
At the retreat, with the aid of a Spanish interpreter, we talked about the issues that LA Voice is tackling (affordable housing, immigration reform, health care issues), but most importantly, we spent time getting to know one another, sharing our congregational successes along with our challenges. We were one of two synagogues present. Stephen S. Wise Temple and IKAR were there to "open the gate."
Each congregational leader reported on their work to date. It was empowering to hear and be supported in our work thus far. All congregations are having similar one-on-ones and relationship building sessions with their members. The residents of Boyle Heights, along with other communities, were impressed with our 6 areas of potential engagement (see below). But along with this positive exchange, many questions were asked.
Why does LA Voice PICO exist with such strength at this time given all of the challenges in our city? What can we do differently now? One of the leaders of LA Voice Pico, Zach Hoover, outlined our cyclical vision of community interaction each item flowing into the next around a wheel: NECESSITY - What is lacking in our communities and what do we care about? CAPACITY - What are we capable of accomplishing together? OPPORTUNITY - Is there an opportunity today that meets our needs?
We need to take this opportunity and test and talk about current issues and realities. How does Stephen S. Wise Temple as a congregation respond to this call to action, to this need and opportunity at this time? What is our story going to be and how will we get closer? Acérquense a la gente. For the sake of our spiritual health and tikkun olam, we must start to open these gates and connect our lives to those who are most vulnerable. Do these actual and symbolic walls that we have built permit our apathy and passivity?
To become more engaged in our LA vision, attend the Town Hall Meeting at Stephen S. Wise Temple on Wednesday, June 17, 7:30 p.m. We'll roll out our Social Justice Plan with personal testimonials, a text study, and breakout groups.
As Rabbi Stern, Sharon Almany and the Social Justice Leadership team continue to reiterate to our Social Justice Leadership Team, at House Meetings, and from the bima, "This is among the most meaningful experiences that I have as a rabbi -- I want you to have that potential as well."