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October 7, 2015 | 24th Tishrei 5776
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  1. What are the objectives and goals of Just Congregations?
  2. What is Congregation Based Community Organizing?
  3. What does Just Congregations do with synagogues?
  4. What is community organizing training?
  5. What's the difference between Just Congregations and a local congregation-based community organizing group?
  6. How do I get involved? How do I get started?
  7. Can I get a speaker?
  8. How do I get in touch with you?
  9. What is it like for a congregation to engage in community organizing?
  10. What does this cost?
  11. Will Just Congregations give me money to subsidize this?
  12. Where is there local organizing?
  13. What other Reform congregations are engaged in community organizing?
  14. What is a "one-to-one"?
  15. If my synagogue tries community organizing, what happens to the social action committee's current work?
  16. Are there any books you would recommend to learn about community organizing?

1. What are the objectives and goals of Just Congregations?

The Just Congregations Initiative's goals fall into two related categories, congregational development and social justice. We believe that for congregations to be effective agents of social change, they themselves must develop strong leadership and a culture of deepening internal relationships.

Congregational Development Goals
  • Identify key congregations and train their leaders (lay and professional) in community organizing skills.
  • Guide congregations through “relationship-building campaigns,” in which leaders create opportunities for members to learn one another’s stories, concerns, and resources.
  • Train rabbinic, cantorial, education, and Jewish communal service students in leadership and organizing skills that will prepare them to lead congregations in the public arena.
  • Aid Reform congregations in increasing the numbers and depth of commitment of their congregations, as Jews increasingly see their synagogues as relevant in their community.
  • Set a model for synagogues from the other denominations. 
Social Justice Goals
  • Significantly increase meaningful social justice engagement by congregations (increasing both the number of congregations involved and the number of people involved within them).
  • Foster a synagogue culture that fully integrates social justice into congregational life, ensuring that the pursuit of justice is at the center of congregational life alongside learning and worship.
  • Enable synagogues to join with neighboring religious congregations of all faiths, recognizing and developing their capacity to be agents of effective social change for the common good.
  • Connect congregations to each other and to congregation-based community organizing (CBCO) networks in their local community; increasingly train leading congregations to mentor others in CBCO.
  • Strengthen the relationships of synagogues to non-Jewish congregations, building an effective context for coalitions to address issues of particular Jewish concern (e.g., Israel and anti-Semitism).
  • Strengthen the Reform Jewish Movement’s impact on critical social justice issues.

2. What is Congregation Based Community Organizing?

Congregation-based community organizing is a process in which congregations build deep relationships among their own members and with other institutions across lines of faith, class, and race. Through building relationships, congregations identify deeply and broadly held concerns of injustice and then bring their collective power to successful action to transform their communities. Working with local community organizing groups, Reform congregations across the country have already achieved significant victories on issues of affordable housing, health care access and affordability, nursing care quality (for both patients and employees), air quality improvement, and much more.

Just Congregations practices and teaches congregation-based community organizing to achieve results:

  • Our synagogues become stronger as we identify and develop new leaders, strengthening the fabric of our community.
  • We create connections with other congregations engaged in organizing, building deep relationships and a shared commitment to improve the lives of both synagogue members and the broader community.

Ultimately, we act powerfully on our most deeply held Jewish values by working together to bring about a redeemed world.

3. What does Just Congregations do with synagogues?

Community organizing happens locally. It is different in every city, state, and region, based on local concerns and context. That said, Just Congregations helps synagogue leaders across the country engage in community organizing effectively. We do this by offering trainings in various target regions, at URJ biennials and RAC conventions, and at annual Just Congregations national rabbinic gatherings. Just Congregations works in partnership with local community organizing groups to support Reform synagogues’ meaningful engagement in local organizing campaigns.

Just Congregations staff work closely with rabbis and lay leaders at the local level in several key regions and connect synagogue leaders around the country to local contacts and training resources. Criteria for in-depth local engagement include: regions in which there is a Reform synagogue experienced in or interested in being intensively trained in CBCO; additional synagogues with the capacity to organize; and the presence of a strong local community organizing group.

4. What is community organizing training?

In concert with local community organizing groups, the Union’s Just Congregations staff trains leaders to:

  • Conduct individual meetings and house meetings. Such intentional conversations foster new relationships and identify shared interests.
  • Conduct relationship-building campaigns to create a congregational network to engage significant numbers of members in actions reflecting their values and concerns.
  • Integrate Jewish learning and ritual into social justice organizing and action.
  • Evaluate and strengthen existing social action activity and efforts to integrate social justice fully into the life of the synagogue.
  • Lead effective public actions for social justice.
  • Evaluate the relationship building process and the public actions.
  • Forge relationships with leaders of other faiths and backgrounds in order to build a shared social justice agenda and increase their influence.
  • Assist leaders in developing funding sources for their social justice organizing.

5. What’s the difference between Just Congregations and a local congregation-based community organizing group?

Ultimately, congregations act powerfully by joining together with other congregations across lines of race, class, and faith. This happens through local community organizing groups across the country. Just Congregations helps congregations understand organizing; we deepen leaders’ Jewish learning and guide them to integrate ritual into their work; we make connections between local leaders and organizations.

6. How do I get involved? How do I get started?

There are several first steps to become involved in community organizing:

a. Contact your local organizer. Attend a local training through his or her organization. Check out the list on this by region.
b. Contact the Just Congregations staff or speak with an experienced synagogue organizing leader.
c. Attend a Union for Reform Judaism workshop or training at a regional gathering or biennial.
Additionally, it is helpful to begin an internal process by talking to people individually in your congregation. Identify other leaders who have appetite for this kind of work, and the capacity to get things done.

7. Can I get a speaker?

Depending on your location, a rabbi or lay leader experienced in community organizing may be able to meet with your social action committee or board. For more information, contact Just Congregations.

8. How do I get in touch with you?

Contact Just Congregations.

9. What is it like for a congregation to engage in community organizing?

Getting started in community organizing is both exhilarating and at times feels overwhelming. Organizing challenges most paradigms under which we are used to operating. For example, community organizing invites us to begin with conversations before action; relationships before issues. It is hard for congregations to be patient with all the relationship building that is required to create a strong foundation of people power. Community organizing moves people to share their stories publicly. Often synagogue members are not used to being public about issues and concerns in their lives.

Organizing teaches congregations to ask new questions. Instead of asking, “What can we do to help?,” we ask, “Who has the power to change the situation?“ Rather than asking, “How much money can we raise to help adult children of congregants who don’t have health insurance?” we have to ask, “Who has the power to make sure these young people are insured, why aren’t they exercising this power now, and what can we do to convince them that change is necessary?”

Many congregations engaged in organizing feel that these challenges are worthwhile because of the way in which participation in organizing enables them to transform themselves into communities in which people know each other; understand each other’s concerns; and perhaps most importantly, when they act for justice they do so with more power and effectiveness.

10. What does this cost?

Effective community organizing happens through broad-based organizations whose institutional members (churches, synagogues, mosques, and others) own and fund the organization. Each member institution pays dues. The amount of money varies depending on the community and congregational ability to pay. This number is often linked to the number of members, or may be set at a percentage of the congregation’s budget. Most community organizing groups cap dues after a certain level. Each member institution elects delegates who lead the organizing group, and hold the group accountable to its member congregations. Although these interfaith organizations raise additional revenue, it is essential that congregations pay dues so that they “own” the organization.

In order to make such a serious investment in social justice work, many members of the congregation—including the board—must understand community organizing as bringing real value to the synagogue. One of the most important benefits of membership is gaining access to the skill and expertise of the professional organizer(s) who staff these groups. Trying to organize without an organizer is usually no more effective than running a youth program with no youth worker, or an education program with no educator. By belonging to an interfaith organization, member congregations share the cost of a professional, keeping costs quite low.

Membership is also a crucial step in building deep, long-term relationships across lines of faith, class, and race with other congregations involved in the organizing group. The first community organizing campaign a congregation undergoes is often the process of building a shared story among many stakeholders about why organizing matters for the lives of synagogue members, the health of the congregation, and improving the broader community.

Some congregations also hire supplementary professional organizers to deepen their effectiveness. Salaries range depending on local context and how much time the organizer devotes to the congregation.

11. Will Just Congregations give me money to subsidize this?

Just Congregations staff is available to assist in developing a strategy to identify the funds needed to join a local community organizing group. Generally, congregations pay dues to local organizations from their operating budgets.

12. Where is there local organizing?

CBCO looks different in every city, state, and region. Begin by checking our directory. Feel free to call us and find out what we know about what’s happening in your region. Reach out to other Jewish leaders, and leaders in the Christian and Muslim communities to find out if they are organizing, and how.

13. Are other Reform congregations engaged in community organizing?

More and more every day. Follow this link to find a list of Reform congregations which are members of congregation-based community organizing groups.

14. What is a “one-to-one”?

The power for justice comes from organized people, acting together. A “one-to-one” is the primary tool we use to build a network of people within a congregation, and across an interfaith community. Also called “relational” or “individual” meetings, they are 45 minute conversations that happen face-to-face in which two people share their own stories with each other, helping them better understand their passions and concerns. The outcome is a new relationship in which two people feel linked to each other, and have identified common concerns. Congregations engaged in organizing conduct “one-to-one” meetings constantly, both in strategic campaigns to uncover issues for action, and as an ongoing habit.

15. If my synagogue tries community organizing, what happens to the social action committee’s current work?

Social action committees do important work—feeding and sheltering the homeless, tutoring elementary school students, running food and clothing drives, and more. Because this work is so necessary, even when a congregation tries organizing it continues to maintain its commitment to direct service social programming. This is especially the case because the social action committee and congregation-based community organizing often draw from completely different pools of synagogue leaders.

16. Are there any books you would recommend to learn about community organizing?

While the best way to learn about community organizing is to attend a training in person and work one on one with an organizer, there are a few books that provide a helpful introduction to organizing and paint a picture of what community organizing can look like and achieve:

  • Going Public, by Michael Gecan
  • Roots for Radicals, by Edward Chambers

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