-Judaism teaches us how to organize our communities toward social justice.
-Jewish texts can guide us as to how to turn relational meetings into action.
-Each learner should understand the steps taken to organize a community.
-Each learner should be able to reference Jewish texts as a guide for organizing.
-How is community organizing inherently Jewish?
-How does one convey the necessity to organize one's community toward social justice?
-How does one turn a relational meeting into action?
- Play the "Human Machine" game.
- One person starts by standing in one spot and repeating a certain action over and over. The next person must join them, but cannot be at the same level (either standing, sitting, or laying down). The second person must also choose a repeating action while the first person continues their action. This continues for each new person until everyone is part of one giant human machine. If time, repeat the game.
- Discussion Questions:
- Could this giant human machine have worked with just one person? Why or why not?
- How did our communication at the beginning of the game (eg, my instructions, each person's choice) turn into a measurable action?
- This game relates to community organizing. Each person contributes themself (their goals, their passions) so that a working, unstoppable machine is created. Real action begins, though, by merely getting to know each other and learning each other's story and passions.
Marshall Ganz, a senior lecturer in public policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, wrote, "Organizers ask three questions: Who are my people? What is their urgent problem? How
can they turn their resources into the power to solve their problem? They answer the questions in dialogue with their constituency by building relationships, telling stories, devising strategy, designing structure and taking action." (Organizing Notes, By Marshall Ganz, Harvard University 2013, p. 2)
Together, we will explore five steps, as described by Rabbi Lindsey Danziger in a course she taught on Community Organizing at Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, OH. We will read various Jewish texts expanding on each step.
Forming a Team
(14) But when Moses’ father-in-law saw how much he had to do for the people, he said, “What is this thing that you are doing to the people? Why do you act alone, while all the people stand about you from morning until evening?” (15) Moses replied to his father-in-law, “It is because the people come to me to inquire of God. (16) When they have a dispute, it comes before me, and I decide between one person and another, and I make known the laws and teachings of God.” (17) But Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “The thing you are doing is not right; (18) you will surely wear yourself out, and these people as well. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone.
As much as we may want to create change on our own, each leader needs a great support system of like-minded individuals who can work together. Here, Moses' Father-in-Law explains to him he cannot just lead on his own. He needs to form a team of leaders who can organize. Similarly, we must identify key members in our congregation who can help with social justice issues. Those people may have social or financial capital. A booklet issued by the Religious Action Center, entitled "Lirdof Tzedek" recommends, "By identifying such key people ahead of time, the congregation or social action committee will be prepared to respond to issues in a timely way. In addition, the congregation now has a means to be kept informed about matters by congregants who are particularly knowledgeable. This process has the added advantage of affording socially-concerned members of the congregation a new way to link their passion for justice with their synagogue life." (p. 46)(https://rac.org/sites/default/files/Lirdof%20Tzedek%20-%20no%20cover.pdf)
...שְׁנַיִם שֶׁיּוֹשְׁבִין וְיֵשׁ בֵּינֵיהֶם דִּבְרֵי תוֹרָה, שְׁכִינָה שְׁרוּיָה בֵינֵיהֶם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (מלאכי ג) אָז נִדְבְּרוּ יִרְאֵי יְיָ אִישׁ אֶל רֵעֵהוּ וַיַּקְשֵׁב יְיָ וַיִּשְׁמָע וַיִּכָּתֵב סֵפֶר זִכָּרוֹן לְפָנָיו לְיִרְאֵי יְיָ וּלְחֹשְׁבֵי שְׁמוֹ.
...Two who are sitting together and there are words of Torah [spoken] between them, the Divine Presence rests with them, as it is said (Malachi 3:16): “Then those who feared the Lord spoke one with another, and the Lord hearkened and heard, and a book of remembrance was written before Him, for those who feared the Lord and for those who thought upon His Name.”
(ג) רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן אוֹמֵר, שְׁלשָׁה שֶׁאָכְלוּ עַל שֻׁלְחָן אֶחָד וְלֹא אָמְרוּ עָלָיו דִּבְרֵי תוֹרָה, כְּאִלּוּ אָכְלוּ מִזִּבְחֵי מֵתִים, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (ישעיה כח) כִּי כָּל שֻׁלְחָנוֹת מָלְאוּ קִיא צֹאָה בְּלִי מָקוֹם. אֲבָל שְׁלשָׁה שֶׁאָכְלוּ עַל שֻׁלְחָן אֶחָד וְאָמְרוּ עָלָיו דִּבְרֵי תוֹרָה, כְּאִלּוּ אָכְלוּ מִשֻּׁלְחָנוֹ שֶׁל מָקוֹם בָּרוּךְ הוּא, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (יחזקאל מא) וַיְדַבֵּר אֵלַי זֶה הַשֻּׁלְחָן אֲשֶׁר לִפְנֵי ה':
(3) Rabbi Shimon says: Three who ate at one table and did not say upon it words of Torah - it is as if they ate from the offerings of the dead, as it is said (Isaiah 28:8): "For all of the tables are full of vomit and feces without the Omnipresent." However, three who ate at one table and said upon it words of Torah - it is as if they ate from the table of the Omnipresent, blessed be He, as it is said (Ezekiel 41:22): "And he said to me, this is the table that is before the Lord."
As great as it is to study or act by oneself, Judaism teaches us the Divine Presence is more imminent the more Jews congregate. This teaches us the power of reaching out to others and learning their story and concerns. Only then will we find common ground, and shared concerns and issues.
Once leaders are identified in a congregation, it is time to listen. Rabbi Jonah Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Center, has posed the challenge for new clergy members in a congregation to have at least one hundred relational meetings in the first few months of their tenure. Only by meeting with and listening to community members and their stories can shared goals be determined.
(א) בֶּן זוֹמָא אוֹמֵר, אֵיזֶהוּ חָכָם, הַלּוֹמֵד מִכָּל אָדָם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (תהלים קיט) מִכָּל מְלַמְּדַי הִשְׂכַּלְתִּי כִּי עֵדְוֹתֶיךָ שִׂיחָה לִּי.
(1) Ben Zoma says: Who is the wise one? He who learns from all men, as it says, "I have acquired understanding from all my teachers" (Psalms 119:99).
The wise person is the one who listens and learns. A leader can only affect change if those on their team are passionate about the cause.
Judaism teaches us that it is not enough that a leader follows their own passion or tries to convince others of their cause. An organizer must honor and revere their community members and their causes and passions.
ת"ר הרואה אוכלוסי ישראל אומר ברוך חכם הרזים שאין דעתם דומה זה לזה ואין פרצופיהן דומים זה לזה.
The Sages taught in a Tosefta: One who sees multitudes of Israel recites: Blessed…Who knows all secrets. Why is this? He sees a whole nation whose minds are unlike each other and whose faces are unlike each other, and He Who knows all secrets, God, knows what is in each of their hearts.
The beauty of community, and especially the Jewish people, is how diverse we are. The reason God is more present within a larger gathering of Jews is because we each have our own ideas and thoughts. When we combine our whole selves (passions, stories, issues, concerns, ideas, plans, finances, social connections) we can become a great force for justice.
It may be intimidating in a one-on-one meeting to approach the subject of choosing a particular issue of social justice. Once a leader has listened to the story of a community member, their passions and concerns will hopefully become apparent. It is important for each community member to know the importance of their choosing an issue. Perhaps one can start with reviewing the Golden Rule and how ubiquitous it is.
Three versions of the Golden Rule:
"A Bedouin came to the prophet, grabbed the stirrup of his camel and said: O the messenger of God! Teach me something to go to heaven with it. Prophet said: "As you would have people do to you, do to them; and what you dislike to be done to you, don't do to them. Now let the stirrup go!" [This maxim is enough for you; go and act in accordance with it!]"
— Kitab al-Kafi, vol. 2, p. 146
Matthew 7:12 New International Version (NIV)
12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you,for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.
It is natural to desire to help others. It is imperative to help a community member realize this.
(19) For I have singled him out, that he may instruct his children and his posterity to keep the way of the Eternal by doing what is just and right, in order that the Eternal may bring about for Abraham what God has promised him.”
Specifically, this passage teaches us Judaism's number one tenants are justice and righteousness.
שלשים יום לתמחוי שלשה חדשים לקופה ששה לכסות תשעה לקבורה שנים עשר לפסי העיר אמר ר' אסי אמר ר' יוחנן כי תנן נמי מתניתין שנים עשר חדש לפסי העיר תנן:
If one lives in city for thirty days, he must contribute to the charity platter from which food is distributed to the poor. If he lives there for three months, he must contribute to the charity box. If he lives there for six months, he must contribute to the clothing fund. If he lives there for nine months, he must contribute to the burial fund. If he lives there for twelve months, he must contribute to the columns of the city [lepassei ha’ir], i.e., for the construction of a security fence.
When one is part of a community, Judaism suggests it is their obligation to contribute to the better good. In the case of meeting one-on-one with someone, picking a social justice issue to confront is a way to contribute to the greater good of the community.
Those of us who are blessed with wealth or privilege must also help those in need. Otherwise, we cannot truly enjoy what we have. Issues of racial injustice can be justified via this text, as well. Many white people, for instance, are unaware of their privilege as white people. As Ashkenazic, Eastern European, American Jews are often perceived as white in society, they must also realize their white privilege and that it is their responsibility to help people of color who struggle in this country due to the color of their skin.
Once leaders are identified, and shared concerns and issues are chosen via relational meetings, it is time to take action. It is not enough in Judaism to walk the walk. One must be willing to talk the talk, as well.
"A Jew is asked to take a leap of action rather than a leap of thought." - Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism, p. 282.
According to Heschel, the Jew must first take a leap of action. It is not enough to sit and contemplate. Our deeds in Judaism matter as much, if not more, than our faith.
This famous quote identifies a key issue: Once determining my morality, that I must love myself and others, and that I must desire justice, I must take action. I mustn't hesitate or postpone it either. I must take action now, because otherwise when will I?
(ד) רַבִּי חֲנִינָא בֶן חֲכִינַאי אוֹמֵר, הַנֵּעוֹר בַּלַּיְלָה וְהַמְהַלֵּךְ בַּדֶּרֶךְ יְחִידִי וְהַמְפַנֶּה לִבּוֹ לְבַטָּלָה, הֲרֵי זֶה מִתְחַיֵּב בְּנַפְשׁוֹ:
(4) Rabbi Chananya ben Chakhinai says: One who stays awake at night, and one who wanders on a road alone, and one who turns his heart to idleness, such a one is liable for [forfeiture of] his life.
This selection illustrates Judaism's disdain for those who do not act and who laze about. It is seen as self-serving and is punishable by death.
Celebrate and Evaluate
(כב) בֶּן בַּג בַּג אוֹמֵר, הֲפֹךְ בָּהּ וַהֲפֹךְ בָּהּ, דְּכֹלָּא בָהּ. וּבָהּ תֶּחֱזֵי, וְסִיב וּבְלֵה בָהּ, וּמִנַּהּ לֹא תָזוּעַ, שֶׁאֵין לְךָ מִדָּה טוֹבָה הֵימֶנָּה:
(22) Ben Bag Bag says: Turn it and turn it, since everything is in it. And in it should you look, and grow old and be worn in it; and from it do not move, since there is no characteristic greater than it.
Though this passage refers to turning Torah in one's mind, it teaches a valuable lesson in planning actions. It is important to keep evaluating and rethinking your message and action. After each action, one should ask, "Ok, now what?"
...יפשפש במעשיו ואמרי לה ימשמש במעשיו...
...[A person] should examine their actions that they have performed and seek to correct them. And some say: [A person] should scrutinize their planned actions and evaluate whether or not and in what manner those actions should be performed...
Social Justice involves series of actions. Not only must one evaluate their action and message afterward, they must ask beforehand, "What is the point of this action? What will it lead to?" Each new action should lead to another and another.
This passage illustrates the importance of not acting hastily. After all the work an organizer puts into a cause, each new action and cause must be equally researched. Is it better to move to action in a day? Or to prepare and research an issue and an action so it is as successful as possible?
- We have looked through five steps for community organizing. Whether in a Jewish or secular setting, whether in a congregation or not, this text study has hopefully demonstrated how and why community organizing is inherently Jewish. It has hopefully also illustrated that Judaism naturally calls for community organizing and social justice.
- For more information, please visit https://rac.org/congregational-tools