My name is Jeannie Appleman. I’m an organizer with the Jewish Funds for Justice. My family and I daven at the modern orthodox synagogue near us in
What do I mean by covenantal community? I mean a community whose members believe and act on a premise that each of our futures is inextricably intertwined, and that we have a stake in each others’ future. I mean a community whose members truly partner with and act to improve our city with others across race, class and religious lines based on shared interests and common vision. I mean a community where congregants are engaged around their talents and dreams, not tasks; where developing people takes precedence over providing programs for every need; where private struggles are voiced, and change is achieved. Covenantal communities stand up for the collective good as well as our own synagogue’s interests. Shearith
I will begin by posing some questions and then laying out a new opportunity to engage in covenantal community – both within your synagogue and with your
Here are a few questions to consider: What is the current chapter of community engagement that you are writing as a congregation? What legacy, in the spirit of Emma Lazarus, a former congregant, will you leave to your grandchildren? In addition to this aesthetic structure, and the vibrant tefilla, Torah study, and chesed work, for what courageous community involvement will Shearith
Just as particular events and experiences shaped Shearith
In today’s Parsha, Mishpatim, and later in Devarim, that in order to walk in the ways of Hashem (G-d), You shall love the stranger for you were strangers in the
What do I mean by power? Many of us believe that the access that our Rabbis and big donors have to decision-makers is power. But I would call this influence. It’s easy to confuse the two. Power is what happens when we join together with our neighbors to voice our collective concerns to politicians and negotiate face-to-face and publicly, not just through back-room deal. It is what we need to do if we want public policy to address the needs of our community and the broader society.
The history includes initiating settlement houses for immigrants and Jewish poor; opening a homeless shelter and partnering with NY institutions to address homelessness; engaging armies of volunteers to mentor and guide troubled young people. In Rabbi Marc Angel’s Remnant of Israel book he writes “Through one-to-one relationships, the ‘big sisters’ would help guide the ‘little sisters’ to lead constructive and fulfilling lives.” These SI leaders knew how to build a covenantal community – one relationship at a time. Shearith
I would propose to you, that in 2008, SI has the opportunity to EXPAND how it acts as a covenantal community by joining with other faith communities and communal organizations to create a truly “covenantal community” here in
There are nearly 100 synagogues nationally, who are employing this particular approach to creating covenantal community, within the context of multi-faith and multi-ethnic organizations, invented by Saul Alinsky and the Industrial Areas Foundation in the 1940s. The Jewish Funds for Justice has worked successfully over the last several years to connect synagogues to these organizations.
Let me describe one synagogue’s experience, that a fellow organizer, Meir Lakein, is working with in
Then they held a synagogue-wide meeting of over 420 congregants at which they launched synagogue-wide chesed initiatives to not only expand chesed, but to make it the instinctive NORM of the community. They launched an organizing drive to press local and state legislators, to commit new resources and support for the long-term care system that would make it easier for seniors to stay in their homes, if they so chose. Shortly after, the synagogue joined a multi-ethnic, interfaith community organization, Greater
Many of us would find it hard to believe that synagogues and Haitian 7th Day Adventist churches would have anything in common. But as members of GBIO, several synagogues discovered that they did. Both communities needed to change nursing home care. Leaders at
As synagogues, we cannot pretend that our own members are immune from skyrocketing health care and housing costs, from unemployment, from the cost of aging, and the challenge of supporting aging parents while underwriting our children’s escalating education costs. Unless we’re willing to share our stories of struggle and hope with each other, and with other communities, I don’t believe we will achieve the fullest possible covenantal community in the broader society either. If we park our own interests and stories at the door and hide our own struggles, we imply, that only people of other ethnicities and faiths struggle, and we’re there just to fix them, instead of partnering with them to create a joint future for all our children.
My great-grandfather died when my grandmother was very young, leaving my great-grandmother penniless, and with five children to support. But since she had no means of support, the local authorities threatened to tear her and her siblings away from their mother, and dump them in an orphanage. The young priest at their church stood up to the authorities, and provided my great-grandmother with odd jobs at the Church, rent, and groceries.
While it saved my family, BY ITSELF, this approach of “meeting individual needs” of congregants, fell short. My family’s shame about this experience kept them isolated from the rest of their congregation because no one ever spoke about “private” matters. Like many synagogues today, they attended each other’s weddings and funerals, but never spoke to each other of their struggles or dreams. If this had been a covenantal community that encouraged my great-grandmother to share her story, she would have met others who had also suffered under the crushing weight of abusive power, and they could have joined together and fought for laws that protected families. But my grandmother didn’t belong to a covenantal community.
Achieving covenantal community requires taking big risks and trusting our fellow congregants and other community members from diverse backgrounds enough to share our stories. This kind of community calls us to be open to hearing their stories and being changed by them. It requires the courage to recognize that a shared covenant that ties our destinies is not cemented only with words – it is signed with action. In the covenant we made with the Holy One, our ancestors committed, “We will do and we will hear.” Can we really expect any less of ourselves, today?