April 24, 2014   24 Nisan 5774
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Tekiah: Social Justice Organizing Initiative
Mar. 10, 2011
After conducting extensive CBCO campaign, congregation launches 3 initiatives: elder care, the environment and raising healthy children.

Community Contact Information:
Temple Shir Tikva
Wayland, MA
www.shirtikva.org

Goals:

  • Build and strengthen a vibrant synagogue community with the capacity to act on the needs and values of its members and act on the core value of Tikkun Olam both inside and outside the walls of the synagogue
  • Develop Jewish leaders at the synagogue
  • Have a meaningful impact on the issues identified and prioritized by the synagogue by joining with other faith-based institutions

Overview:
After conducting an extensive community organizing initiative to identify issues of concern to synagogue members, the synagogue launched three social action initiatives on the main issues of concern: elder care, the environment and raising healthy children.

Preparation:
In the summer of 2006, key synagogue lay leaders engaged the local Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) to help strengthen the social action work at the synagogue. The JCRC organizer helped the leaders put together a core team of 20 to lead the congregation-wide listening campaign and identify issues of concern for synagogue members.

The strategy included a series of house meetings over a few months, a follow-up meeting to interpret what was heard in the house meetings, and then a community-wide assembly to report to the congregation the issues identified.

Project Implementation: 
Three hundred synagogue members attended 30 house meetings, and a similar number attended the opening assembly, TEKIAH GEDOLAH, at which time the key issues identified were announced: elder care, raising healthy children and the environment.

Three action teams of 15 to 20 members were formed, one for each of the areas identified. A key component was laying the groundwork for the congregation to join a local interfaith social justice coalition so that members could eventually take action on these issues with other faith groups, thus looking beyond the walls of their own congregation and maximizing their impact.

Results:
The environment action team:

  • Examined the synagogue building’s energy use to reduce its carbon footprint
  • Encouraged more than 60 households to form “low-carbon diet” teams to reduce their carbon footprint at homes.
  • Began working with other local civic and religious organizations to secure land for a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm.

The eldercare action team:

  • Reached out to local eldercare service organizations and connected individuals with organizations that needed volunteers
  • Began research to identify additional action areas around this issue

The TEKIAH Initiative also inspired a program called Neighbor to Neighbor that brings together women from the synagogue and a local Islamic center for dialogue and social action.

The success of the TEKIAH Initiative led Temple Shir Tikva to hire a Jewish Organizing Initiative (JOI) Fellow to help further the synagogue’s organizing work and develop new leaders. In the spring of 2009, the synagogue joined the local interfaith social justice coalition, enabling the synagogue to engage in larger campaigns around supporting critical local services such as public schools, the police force and elder care. The campaigns included:

  • Urging local elected officials through a letter-writing campaign, in-person meetings and community education programs to close the telecommunications tax loop hole and use the additional revenue to support local services.
  • Helping to defeat a ballot question that would roll back the state sales tax.  Members of the congregation took lead roles in organizing interfaith action by educating congregants about the issue, collecting more than 250 commitment cards, setting up a Facebook page, and working with other congregations in the area helped to defeat the measure, which would have slashed local budgets.
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