Organizing in the Framework of our Faith Traditions

Growing up as a young girl here in Montgomery County, MD, attending the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, the Pirkei Avot, or Ethics of our Fathers, were drilled into me. These are sayings that serve as a guide for living an ethical and moral life. Two in particular have been flashing in my brain more and more in these recent years of increased polarization and a reckoning around systemic racism:

            “If I am not for myself, who is for me? But if I am for my own self only what am I?”

            “Don’t separate yourself from the community.”

I was struggling with how to put these two maxims into practice for myself as a way to relieve some of my anxiety around these trying times, when I was introduced to the world of relational organizing, and ultimately to Action in Montgomery. This introduction came through the SEA Change (Study-Engage-Act-Change) program that my synagogue, B’nai Israel Congregation in Rockville, participated in in 2020-2021, along with another local congregation, Washington Hebrew.

I have gained a new and wonderful sense of community participating in AIM actions and getting to know members of other area congregations of many faiths. And, I have learned the importance of listening to identify the common needs and struggles we share and to then use our collective power to address them.

The trainings AIM has been leading for B’nai Israel and other SEA Change members together with Harvest Intercontinental Church in Olney have been a highlight. Cynthia Marshall from AIM, Yvonne Brooks-Little, a Deacon at Harvest, and I worked to put this program together. The turnout from our congregations, but more importantly, the enthusiasm and eagerness everyone has demonstrated to build relationships, has been inspiring. Each of the many times Cynthia paired us off in groups of two, it was very difficult for her to break off conversations and to get us focused back on the program. As a result, many from our two congregations are now meeting up on their own for one-to-one conversations.

Yvonne said about the program, “The training with our faith communities was transformative. It allowed us to see that while there may be differences in our beliefs, there are no differences in our needs, allowing our faith communities to join as power force to affect change.” Indeed, as I sat down for Sunday services at Harvest at the outset of the program, I thought to myself “How are we going to find common ground between an Evangelical congregation and a Conservative Jewish one?” By being open to thinking beyond ourselves, and through the power of community, we are doing just that.