A Passover Social Action Update from the RAC

Every year I look forward to Passover, when we gather with family and friends, share a festive meal, and retell the story of our exodus from Egypt – with all the lessons applied to today’s urgent moral dilemmas and to the struggles for freedom in America and across the globe.

At every seder, I am touched by the creativity of connecting symbols, old and new, on the seder plate to modern challenges – the bitter herbs for the victims of human trafficking, the symbols of the spring harvest reminding us of our responsibility to protect God’s creation for generations yet to come, and newer symbols – an orange for women’s rights, a tomato for farm workers’ rights, etc. And this year, I know, as we tell the story of our own journey to freedom, we will remember those still facing injustice and inequality – immigrants to our nation, the LGBT community, the differently abled still facing too many barriers at too many turns. And in these connections, we should take tremendous pride in knowing how our story of liberation continues to inspire all those who dream that one day soon, freedom and equality can be theirs.

Let me also suggest a way at this time of year, you can help strengthen the social justice program of your synagogue: By ensuring that a congregational leader – or better yet, a delegation – attend the RAC’s major social justice happening of the year, a Social Action Skills Training & Advocacy Day, May 18-20 in Washington, D.C.

Built for lay leaders, clergy and social justice activists who want to strengthen our Movement’s social justice work and bring their synagogue programs to the next level, attendees will learn from key leaders of our Movement’s social action work, teaching about current best practices and exciting new programs from coast to coast. They will in turn introduce you to leading policy experts, staff from Capitol Hill and the White House, and top social justice advocates in Washington who work on a range of issues with which your congregation either is involved or might well choose to be involved.

Your leaders will learn ways of respecting political differences and bridging ideological divides in your congregation, and will enhance their skills in every area of congregational social justice work. To conclude the program, they will join on Tuesday with members of our Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism – our Movement’s top social justice lay leadership – in meetings with key staff and members of Congress. Your attendee(s) will come home energized – and in turn be prepared to energize even your most successful local programs. Register today for yourself or recruit/designate others from your synagogue to attend.

As you know, the Passover-Easter season has exposed heightened tensions between Christians and Jews. As such, I was grateful to have participated recently in a Jewish-Christian summit that included colleagues from several other Jewish communal organizations, as well as the denominational leaders of the Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists and other Protestant groups. We successfully reopened ongoing relations after a tense year and a half in which disagreements regarding Israel had caused the cessation of our dialogue. As you likely are aware, the Presbyterian Church recently released “Zionism Unsettled,” which calls into question the legitimacy of Israel. This topic will be addressed in depth at the Presbyterian’s upcoming convention in June. In the meantime, Religion News Service carried this op-ed from Rabbi Rick Jacobs about the issue. It, and this JCPA press release provide more information.

And finally, some wonderful news to share: We just learned from Gift of Life that the first two potentially life-saving matches have been made from last year’s Yom Kippur bone marrow swab drives organized in our congregations. Can there be any more dramatic expression of the Jewish value of pikuach nefesh – our responsibility to do all we can to save a life? We hope more will follow the 35 congregations that participated last fall, and we’re aiming for 75-100 this coming Yom Kippur. So we’re kicking things off early, and we hope you’ll help us reach this goal. You can find information on how to participate here and contact Veronica Grant to get involved.

In closing, I wish you, your loved ones, and your congregational family, a sweet, wonderful Pesach holiday. In the meantime, please check out the Passover section of ReformJudaism.org for recipes, craft ideas, and information on the customs and rituals of the holiday. Chag sameach! 

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Rabbi David Saperstein

About Rabbi David Saperstein

Rabbi David Saperstein for 40 years served as the Director and Counsel of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. He was selected by Newsweek magazine in 2009 as the most influential rabbi in the country and described in a Washington Post profile as the "quintessential religious lobbyist on Capitol Hill.” He is now the Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom.

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