A Year In Progress

Perspectives

The modern American musical, Rent, famously asks the question, “how do you measure a year?” I have recently been thinking a lot about the transformative experience of a year, how much can change over the course of 12 brief months. Over the last couple of months and the next couple of months, I have marked and will mark a number of meaningful one year anniversaries. It was a year ago in February that I first visited Chicago Sinai Congregation and the city of Chicago. It was a year ago on May 14th that I was Ordained. A couple of days later that I left Los Angeles, my home for almost 10 years. A year ago at the end of June that I moved to Chicago, and a year ago July 5th that I began my work at Chicago Sinai Congregation. As I consider my personal and professional journey this year, I have thought a lot about the work that we have done together over the last year.

The year can be measured in lifecycle events, in B’nei Mitzvah, Weddings, Conversions, Baby Namings and Funerals. The year can be measured in Social Justice work, in pieces of drywall hung and meals served. The year can be measured in classes taught, sermons delivered and worship services led. Yet, often when I think of the progression of a year, I think of two specific projects we have made significant progress on over the course of this year; the work of the Caring Community and of RAC IL (formerly known as Reform IL).

Caring Community
On my very first day at Chicago Sinai, we held our first meeting of the Caring Community Task Force. Well before my arrival, the community had realized that a hole existed within our community. While we have many strong and diverse programmatic offerings we were not doing all we could to support members of our community through times of joy or difficulties. This is not a concern unique to Sinai, but a problem of the modern world we live in, where it is easy to feel like you have connection, but much more difficult to maintain a real meaningful personal relationship, I spoke about this very concern on Erev Rosh Hashanah.

The Task Force has been working over the course of the year to better understand how we can support members of our community. We decided to focus our efforts at first on supporting members of the community through personal loss and mourning. We know that this is a lifecycle event that everyone experiences and is an experience that is unique and challenging for all of us. In order to better understand how we can help members of our community we had individual conversations and focus groups to discuss how to better support individuals through the illnesses and deaths of their family members.

We identified a number of areas of concern, issues of communication, programmatic offering and outreach support. We have worked to change the way we talk about supporting members of our community through death and mourning. We are working to update the content of our communications including our website. We are beginning to offer programs centered on supporting our family members through difficult times in their lives. We are also beginning the process of thinking of how we can offer physical support to members of our community.

This is a long and complicated process, but it is one that we are very much aware of and are working to understand better how we can continue to do this important work. If you want to be involved in the work of our Caring Community, please reach out to me directly.

The Illinois Religious Action Center
Originally conceived under the name Reform Illinois and now called The Illinois Religious Action Center or RAC IL; is a new statewide collaborative initiative of Reform congregations working together to help create social justice change throughout our state. Using the decades of success of the Religious Action Center in Washington DC, where Reform Jews have been leaders on moral and ethical issues that have faced our country. Our community has led on issues of civil rights, and was an important part of the coalition which worked to ensure the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

RAC IL also builds off a model of success in other statewide coalitions, the first of which was Reform CA. Five years ago, a group of clergy and leaders at reform congregations in California got together to begin affecting change on a state level. They named their coalition, Reform California. With the support of the national organization of the RAC, Reform CA’s first initiative was in support of the Trust Act, which limited local cooperation with immigration enforcement, helping to protect undocumented immigrants. After the passage of the Trust Act, Reform CA has used their collective power to help pass bills on affordable housing and racial profiling.

Over the course of the year, members of our congregation have joined RAC IL to learn about issues in our state. They have met with partner institutions, conducted relationship trainings and worked to connect our community to those around us that care about these important issues. In April, we officially launched RAC IL, with over 300 people in attendance, representing over 30 congregations across the the state. Our congregational delegation was the largest of any congregation in attendance.

RAC IL has decided to begin its work concentrating on two primary issue areas, issues of racial justice and issues of immigrant and refugee rights. Over the next couple of months we are going to continue to look at these areas and understand ways we can advocate for positive change. We are going to continue to build relationships with our community and outside of it. We are going to work to register voters for the upcoming election.

We want you to be a part of this work with us. If you are interested in getting involved or want to learn more please reach out to me directly.

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