Mar. 29, 2013
Created a powerful, visible, effective Jewish religious presence in support of immigration reform and access to higher education for the children of undocumented immigrants and civil marriage equality.
Community Contact Information:
Temple Sinai, Temple Micah, Temple Beth Ami, Temple Shalom, Temple Emanuel
- Engage local congregations in direct action to pass MD Questions 4 (Dream Act) and 6 (Civil Marriage Equality).
- Ensure that Jewish values and organized Jewish religious voices were a significant presence in this campaign and on these issues.
- Test our congregations' appetites for direct political work.
With the organizing support of JUFJ, five URJ congregations in DC and Montgomery County, MD, created a powerful, visible, effective Jewish religious presence in support of immigration reform and access to higher education for the children of undocumented immigrants and civil marriage equality. With sermons, house meetings, phone banks, canvassing, and get-out-the-vote work on Election Day, we rallied our communities both inside and outside the synagogue walls to see these questions as pressing Jewish issues.
In early June 2012, the RAC and Jews United for Justice (JUFJ) convened a meeting to gauge the appetites of local congregations to participate in an organized, sustained campaign to present MD Questions 4 and 6 as issues of priority to the Jewish community and work to ensure their passage. The RAC provided very helpful back-round materials on the legislation and support materials from Jewish tradition. JUFJ committed an organizer who provided campaign materials, strategic advice, and on-going support to each congregation. In addition to a few Conservative and Reconstructionist congregations, Temple Sinai and Temple Micah in Washington, DC, and Temple Shalom, Temple Emanuel, and Temple Beth-Ami in Montgomery County, MD, all committed to the "Dream for Equality" campaign.
For each congregation this meant clergy investment and support on the issues, institutional lay leadership blessing for direct political action, and a core group of leaders to move the campaign forward. Materials like volunteer pledge cards were prepared ahead of time for immediate distribution after related sermons, accompanied by fact-sheets on each ballot question and answers to anticipated questions. By the end of the campaign 5,000 heard or read the message from the congregations and 275 were actively engaged in working on the campaign.
Each congregation approached the challenge slightly differently based on the particular personalities and appetites of their institution. In some congregations there were concerns about engaging in such explicitly political work as a community, and in others there were concerns that there might be push-back from congregants about either immigration reform or marriage equality. Through numerous conversations with stake-holders, the leadership teams persevered and the congregations forged ahead.
The core building blocks of the campaign were similar for each congregation: a committed team of lay leaders and clergy created sermons, wrote articles for internal and external publication, facilitated housemeetings, hosted fundraisers, organized phone banks and canvassing days to reach voters, and did get-out-the-vote work on election day. Along the way, there were details that were different from place to place: some congregations focused more on one ballot question than the other, in at least one congregation pledge cards were distributed to the entire congregation on Rosh Hashanah, some congregations had programs for their teens and Confirmands, some had expert panels and Yom Kippur afternoon discussions of the issues, some devoted a special Shabbat to the subject, and some of us are more adept with outreach through social media than others. And of course, after a very exciting election day where we won on both issues, we celebrated our victory.
In total, there were 13 phone banks reaching 7,260 Jewish voters, multiple sermons in all 5 congregations reaching approx. 5,000 congregants, 7 canvass sessions, 6 housemeetings, 5 fundraisers, and at least 10 educational panels or programs for adults and teens among our congregations.
Together, and with the help of JUFJ, our congregations helped make Maryland a more inclusive state for immigrants and LGBTQ people. While for one or two of our congregations, this kind of direct participation in political issues as a congregation was familiar, for most of us this was new or new-again-after-a-long-haitus territory. In some places lay-leaders had to be persuaded that this was appropriate work for synagogues, and in others congregants were educated about what can and can't be said about election issues from the Bimah and in our publications.
For all of us, participating in this campaign reinvigorated our social justice work, re-sensitized us to LGBTQ concerns in our synagogues and broader communities, made immigration reform personal again, and gave us a real sense of what is possible when we get organized and work together. Victory on a state-wide level depended on the work of many organizations and individuals, but we think that we played an important role. The kind of action we took is certainly replicable by other synagogues with an appetite for effective political action, the ability to organize themselves, and a tolerance for controversy. It has certainly whet our appetites for more!