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Suggested Ingredients to Synagogue Social Justice Initiatives

The list below is obviously based on ideals. It is a standard to strive for, rather than a list of expected outcomes for every social justice engagement. Nonetheless, reviewing these questions before and after engaging in a social justice activity may stimulate some helpful reflection on what was achieved, as well as a way to plan thoughtfully for the future.

Planning: Laying the groundwork and vision.

  • The Social Action Committee has a strong infrastructure, including:
    • Clear roles
    • Financial resources
    • Representation on synagogue board
    • Staff support as needed.
  • Communication about social justice programs and coordination among programs is a high priority.
  • The synagogue mission statement reflects its commitment to social justice work and is effectively publicized to the congregation.
  • The project planners and/or the Social Action Committee have developed goals and a plan for accomplishing them.
  • Social justice programming includes time for planning, education, action, reflection, and evaluation.
  • An individual or group has responsibility for publicity (collecting and sharing knowledge) about social justice initiatives throughout the congregation.
  • Appropriate training is provided to all volunteers.
  • Internal feedback and evaluation mechanisms are present.

Leadership: Getting the right people involved.

  • The rabbi, synagogue staff, and board provide leadership and support as needed.
  • Responsibility for project oversight is shared among different people.
  • More than one person plays a central leadership role.
  • Several people play supporting roles.
  • Future leaders are actively cultivated.
  • Leaders representing different constituencies (religious school, Sisterhood, etc.) within the congregation are engaged to support social justice initiatives.
  • Leadership strives towards the long-term sustainability of initiatives.

Congregational Involvement: Involving the different parts of the congregation.

  • There are a significant number of volunteers and clear strategies for recruiting new volunteers.
  • People are provided with a range of ways to volunteer, recognizing availability and interests, including both one-shot and ongoing projects.
  • There is coordination among youth group, sisterhood, brotherhood, preschool, Religious School, senior citizen groups, adult education, and others.
  • Opportunities are geared toward various populations, including youth, adults, seniors and families.
  • Families are provided with opportunities to engage in social justice work together.
  • The congregation sees the social action committee as the nexus of social justice activity in the congregation.

Partnership: Working with others.

  • Social justice work is done with a partner agency (usually non-profit and community based) that is experienced with the problem and/or population the synagogue is intending to work with.
  • The team (synagogue and partner) has developed a shared understanding about their joint work plan and each other's roles.
  • Regular communication between the partners occurs about their respective needs and resources.
  • Training is provided for leaders on building strong partnerships.
  • Partners are large and diverse enough to meet your need.
  • Partners have experience working with volunteers and are willing and interested in developing new projects.

Education (Jewish and Issue-Based): Learning about the context of the work.

  • Social action projects are a manifestation of the synagogue’s Jewish values and reflect the ruach (spirit) of a covenantal community committed to justice and Tikkun Olam. Congregants publicly articulate this perspective.
  • Volunteers lead and participate in Jewish learning as an ongoing component of their work.
  • Volunteers have opportunities to deepen their understanding of root causes of the issues on which they are working.
  • Volunteers have had opportunities to develop an understanding of the community in which they are volunteering.
  • Educational opportunities are varied (lectures, articles, etc.).

Action: Making change happen.

  • Volunteers meet actual needs that are known and can be articulated.
  • The work of volunteers has some impact on the larger social issues that could be measured.
  • Volunteers have opportunities to provide a service for others. The service is empowering (taught a valuable skill, promoted self sufficiency, etc.).
  • Volunteers have opportunities to engage in advocacy efforts to change public policy.
  • Synagogue members have the opportunity to join in a community organizing campaign, where the purpose is to work alongside others and build power (such as the civil rights movement or affordable housing coalitions).
  • Opportunities for grass roots, hands-on work exists in the greater community.
  • Volunteers have the opportunity to develop a relationship with someone different than her/himself (socio-economically, racially, ethnically, etc.)

Reflection: Looking inward.

  • Time is allotted for reflection activities.
  • Reflection activities are designed to help the participant make connections between the education they received about the issue, the Jewish learning they did, and the action they took.
  • Reflection activities challenge participants to think in new ways, explore issues deeply, but within a “safe” environment.
  • Reflection activities are continuous - before, during, and after taking action.
  • Reflection activities are varied: individual and in groups; structured and free form; with peers, coordinators, and the community organizations; using various skills and interests (art, writing, photos, prayer, etc.).
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