Tikkun Olam: Creating Systemic Change
This year, we have witnessed moral ambiguity, violence, anti-Semitism, and other disgraces. As Jews, we choose to work on creating systemic change to repair and renew the world.
Civic Engagement Campaign
Jewish tradition tells us "a ruler is not to be appointed unless the community is first consulted" (Talmud, Brakhot 55a).
In 2018, the URJ, led by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, mounted a nonpartisan effort to rally Reform Jews to make our voices heard by voting.
Reform Jews and others from nearly 1,000 communities in 43 states participated in the engagement campaign, involving more than 158,000 Americans in the democratic process. The program registered 4,117 people to vote and organized 17 candidate forums. Reform Jewish youth stepped up, too, with more than 8,000 college students participating in the campaign and hundreds of teens and young adults involved in civic engagement programming held at 16 NFTY and URJ camp programs.
In 2018, official Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC) state projects were undertaken and staffed in California, Illinois, Ohio, New York, and Texas. Two new centers, RAC-TX and RAC-IL, were launched, and almost immediately, RAC-IL partnered with immigrant-led coalitions to successfully pass a law that allows victims of domestic violence and other survivors to report crimes to police without fear of deportation. RAC-NY expects to launch in 2019.
Across the Unites States, Reform Jews made hundreds of calls to Florida voters, successfully urging them to support restoring voting rights to 1.4 million citizens who served full prison sentences for previous felony convictions.
RAC-OH collected more than 7,000 signatures to get the Neighborhood Safety Drug Treatment and Rehabilitation Amendment on the November ballot. It also organized days of action in six cities statewide to educate voters about the importance of treating substance abuse as an illness, not a crime. Although the ballot measure did not pass, we were successful in pushing the state legislature to commit to including its key components in 2019 legislation.
Reform Jews partnered with Keshet, which works for the full equality of all LGBTQ Jews and their families in Jewish life, to hold town hall events and community canvass days to encourage voters to support preserving protections for transgender individuals in public places. The campaign, which mobilized 10 Bay State congregations to hold their own events, was successful at the ballot box.
Reform Jews organized to help enact critical, commonsense gun violence prevention measures that would enhance background check laws and raise to 21 the minimum age required to purchase semi-automatic weapons.
Because California is home to 21 of the 30 most expensive housing markets in the country, Reform Jews there worked to pass a housing bond measure that would provide $4 billion a year for affordable housing and a bill that would require all energy in California to be carbon-free by 2045.
Gun Violence Prevention
Following repeated episodes of gun violence – Newtown, Ferguson, Parkland, Pittsburgh, and others – the URJ re-committed to efforts to effect change to the laws that allowed these tragedies to occur.
After the February 2018 shootings in Parkland, FL, NFTY, the Reform Jewish Youth Movement, led efforts to energize the entire Reform Movement to demand sensible gun laws. Thousands of Reform Jews came together in Shabbat worship experiences before taking to the streets in Washington D.C. and to the statehouses of our nation for March for Our Lives events. With generous support from the Leo and Libby Nevas Family Foundation, the Kendeda Fund, and Everytown for Gun Safety, our teens rallied members of Reform congregations to participate in these advocacy endeavors.
Criminal Justice Reform
As part of its movement-wide racial justice campaign, the URJ mobilized Reform Jews to urge Congress to enact critical reforms to the U.S. criminal justice system that would reduce racial disparities in sentencing, prison conditions, juvenile justice, reentry, and recidivism. The Reform Movement’s sustained, years’-long pressure helped ensure that the First Step Act, passed by Congress and signed by the president in December 2018, included key provisions to reduce some mandatory minimum sentences and enact long-overdue prison reforms that will contribute to meaningful change, even as we continue our work to end mass incarceration.
Dreamers and Family Separation
The Reform Movement waged a campaign in support of legislation that could prevent the deportation of nearly 800,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and give them a path to citizenship. As the fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) hung in the balance, we rallied for a clean Dream Act. In January 2018, in an act of civil disobedience, rabbis and other protestors took over a rotunda on Capitol Hill. More than 80 individuals were arrested, including Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.
Photos: Ralph Alswang
When the Reform Movement learned migrant children were being separated from their parents at the southern U.S. border, the URJ responded not only with alarm and condemnation, but also with donations of clothing, diapers, and other items needed by families being held in government detention. As part of a multi-faith coalition, Reform leaders visited the Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas, to bear witness and meet with families and separated children.