What issues touch your heart? Do you have a recent story of when you or your family felt vulnerable? What social justice change would you be willing to work for and why? What keeps you up at night? When was the last time you felt angst? What are some of the pressures that you or members of your family have faced?
These are the questions that Beth Am members have been asking of fellow congregants over the past few months as part of a new community organizing initiative at the synagogue. These one-on-one, face-to-face conversations are part of a broader campaign to deepen relationships at Beth Am and to begin thinking broadly and intentionally about the tikkun olam work we engage in at Beth Am. These conversations are centered in a belief that for Beth Am to be an effective agent of social change, we must develop a culture of deepening relationships within the congregation.
Therefore, over the past few months, a core team of Beth Am members have had about 75 different conversations with fellow members. By mid-June, we will have had 250 more conversations, communicating with one another about passions and concerns. In June, the members of that team will reconvene to report about the stories they heard and begin considering how we might collectively take action on the issues that most unite us.
So far, we have already heard powerful stories about young adults saddled with student loan debt, who are having trouble living in the town in which they grew up. We have heard stories of families struggling to rebound after the last economic crisis and the stress it puts on families in Silicon Valley. We have heard stories of individuals who have undocumented immigrants in or close to their families, experiencing the challenges of avoiding arrest or deportation. We all have stories. We all have moments that cut to the essence of who we are as individuals. There is no better place to share those stories, or to share those moments, than at a synagogue.
Furthermore, we are not doing this alone — as part of this initiative, Beth Am has partnered with the IAF (Industrial Areas Foundation.) The IAF is the country’s oldest and largest leadership development and broad-based organizing network, investing in and working with thousands of congregations and non-profits since the 1940’s. There are IAF affiliates all across the country, and currently, the IAF is building a new chapter on the Peninsula. Beth Am is one of the charter members of that effort. Other churches, synagogues, mosques and non-profit organizations will join this area’s IAF chapter — creating a local chapter, “driven by the belief that healthy congregations and non-profits are essential to a vibrant democratic society, and hold the key to mending and reweaving the social fabric essential for strong families, healthy communities and a just world.”
So, when you receive a phone call or an email, please be willing to engage and be willing to share your story. Know that you are not alone. As the great Jewish philosopher Martin Buber taught, “All real living is meeting.” If we take the wisdom of our tradition seriously, this is what our synagogue must become — a place that says to its members, “Each of you, your experiences and your stories mean something to us, and we want to hear them!”