Reform Leaders' Big Day on Capitol Hill - and the Work We Now Face

Inside Leadership

Reform Leaders' Big Day on Capitol Hill - and the Work We Now Face

Collage of Rabbi Rick Jacobs and other Reform leaders on Capitol Hill with members of the 116th Congress

I’m writing from the “Quiet Car” on a train back to New York after a long, wonderful day on Capitol Hill. I was in Washington, D.C., to celebrate with some old friends, and some new friends, as they were sworn in as members of the 116th Congress.

No matter your political leanings, it would have been difficult not to be inspired by the energy and new sense of possibility that was palpable all across the capital as the new Congress was installed. The diversity of the new class is remarkable and bodes well for our future; the record number of women in the freshman class was a story everywhere. Seeing a remarkably diverse cohort of elected leaders take their places in our legislature was a powerful reminder that, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., taught us, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

I was honored to join the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism’s leadership in distributing an important letter setting out our priorities to every member of the 116th Congress. I urge you to read it. Equally important, or so it seemed, we delivered babka to all the Jewish members of Congress! What a great way to get their attention – and their appreciation.

I was in Washington largely because I have been so inspired by my friend Jacky Rosen, the new Senator from Nevada, who was sworn in on a Hebrew Bible printed in 1814 on brief loan from the Library of Congress. I first met her when she became president of her Reform synagogue, Congregation Ner Tamid in Henderson, NV. She is one impressive and authentic leader, and I know she will quickly make an impact in the Senate.

I was also honored to congratulate the new senator from Utah, Mitt Romney. His op-ed this week in the Washington Post gave us a clear sense of how he’s approaching his new role – with moral clarity and backbone. Years ago, my colleague Rabbi Jonah Pesner, now director of the RAC, worked with Gov. Romney to bring about trailblazing health care reform in Massachusetts. That work reminds us that transformational change is possible when we make allies instead of enemies.

To have the most impact, our Reform leadership team spread out over Capitol Hill. Rabbi Pesner and Rabbi David Saperstein talked to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer about how much we all learn from his rabbi, Rabbi Rachel Timoner of Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn. I had the opportunity to congratulate longtime friend Rep. Jerry Nadler on becoming chair of the House Judiciary Committee.

I was able to congratulate now-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and had a meaningful conversation with Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland. I also was able to greet Senators Rob Portman of Ohio, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire. I even had a chance to meet the impressive new representative from Michigan, Elissa Slotkin, who served visitors to her office the legendary all-beef hot dogs invented by her great-grandfather.

There was just so much going on, and too many people in too-small rooms to meet everyone I wanted to see. I missed newly sworn-in representative Angie Craig of Minnesota (and of Congregation Shir Tikvah in St. Paul, MN!). Earlier this fall, during a visit to Memphis, I had seen the two representatives, David Kustoff and Steve Cohen – one a Republican and one a Democrat, both of whom are both members of Temple Israel of Memphis.

It was an important and exciting day, but now, the parties are over – and now, the work begins.

There has never been a better time for the Consultation on Conscience. Register to join us - and then learn more about the Reform Movement’s priorities for the 116th Congress, including how you can urge your members of Congress to take action.

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Rabbi Rick Jacobs is the president of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), the largest Jewish movement in North America, with almost 850 congregations and nearly 1.5 million members. An innovative thought leader, dynamic visionary, and representative of progressive Judaism, he spent 20 years as the spiritual leader of Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, NY. Deeply dedicated to global social justice issues, he has led disaster response efforts in Haiti and Darfur. Learn more about Rabbi Rick Jacobs.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs

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