Community organizing – what was that, again?

Rabbi Deborah Silver
December 6, 2012
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Around my third year of rabbinical school, there began to be something of a buzz around the idea of community organizing. One of the Jewish organizations then in the field picked up on my interest, and I attended a training.

I know that for some of my colleagues, the community organizing model has been a wonderful way to create links with the wider community, as well as consolidating and energizing their own. But I have to say that my own experience of it has been mixed, and, two years on, I’m still asking myself why.

‘One on one’ conversations, for example, opening up and identifying interests and places of discomfort, have worked well wherever I’ve tried them – most recently in my Rosh Hashanah sermon. I think that subconsciously, too, those principles are at work in my mind whenever a congregant comes to see me, regardless of the ostensible subject of their visit. But getting to the next stage – bringing people together in house meetings – always proved impossible. Folk seemed to have neither the time nor the energy for it – particularly the former. By the way, this was the case across denominations at the time I was working on the project.

It might be that we are just at a stage of development where we don’t want to be active – there’s a sort of entropy at work that means we don’t get galvanized. Maybe it’s just the timing – there hasn’t been an identifiable issue around which to rally to get to the next stage. Maybe it’s that people’s expectations of what a synagogue is for are limited to ‘the Jewish stuff,’ which tends to be pretty narrowly defined. Perhaps there’s a reluctance to be ‘political’ at a grassroots level (as opposed to the brisk exchange of opinions I have just seen take place nationally). Whichever way, I find myself left with more questions than answers on this one.

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Rabbi Deborah Silver was ordained by the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, Los Angeles, in 2010 and works as the Assistant Rabbi at Adat Ari El, Valley Village. Her interests include music, dance and yoga. Born in England, she is alternately exhilarated, confused and fascinated by life in North Hollywood.

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