Fairmount Temple congregant and high school student Eric Giesler joined Rabbi Robert Nosanchuk in Washington, DC at the Consultation on Conscience of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in April 2013. Eric’s participation in this conference was supported by the Darnovsky/Bonder Fund and the Maurice H. Shapiro Consultation on Conscience Fund of Fairmount Temple. We encourage you to share this post, to comment below, and to see more information about the Religious Action Center’s important work on behalf of our Reform Jewish movement in Washington, D.C. at http://rac.org
I recently had the opportunity to travel to Washington D.C. where I attended the Religious Action Center’s flagship policy conference, Consultation on Conscience. I spent four days listening to inspiring speakers, having meaningful discussions, and learning more than I ever thought possible. While reflecting on this incredible conference, I realized that there are three Hebrew phrases that can aid me in sharing my experiences: Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof (Justice, justice you shall pursue), L’dor Vador (From generation to generation), and im tirtzu, ein zo agada (If you will it, then it is no dream.)
The question was so simple. “What drives you to do social justice?” But the answer was so complex and varied. The themes were similar: family role models, personal experiences of injustice, a sense of responsibility and moral obligation. But each one of us had a story to tell, a piece to uncover, a truth to reveal. After 15 months of knowing the people in the room with me, I realized that maybe I didn’t really know them that well at all. And all it takes, to really get to know a person, is to ask a simple question and let their story unfold.
The disconnect is striking.
“The Jewish vote,” we were told last year, is all about support for Israel.
But here I am at the Consultation on Conscience. Israel is on the agenda, to be sure. But it’s a crowded agenda. And our friends in Washington seem to “get” that better than the pre-election press.
Attending the Religious Action Center’s (RAC) Consultation on Conscience is always immensely inspiring. Attendees are exposed to a multitude of speakers on the urgent issues of the day, as well as to social justice leaders who share their passion and their drive. At the end of the second day this year, several speakers provided me with renewed motivation to pursue this work. Rabbi Sid Schwartz offered a remedy for burnout: connecting our push for social justice to our tradition. He reminded us that Jews are “no longer the most vulnerable members of society” so that we must think beyond tribalism and embrace “the responsibility of privilege.” He urged us to implement a regular service trip to the developing world in our congregations.
Yesterday, we had the incredible opportunity to hear from Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Senator Graham is an extremely established and well-respected member of Congress. He serves on the high-powered Appropriations, Armed Services, Budget and Judiciary committees, and spent eight years in the House of Representatives representing South Carolina’s 3rd district before moving over to the Senate. He has championed issues of national defense and economic reform in his years in the Senate, and is one of only two U.S. senators currently serving in the National Guard or Reserves.
It’s WRJ’s Centennial year and some days I wake up and I’m not sure what city I am in! Today though, I am very clearly in Washington, D.C. attending the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC)’s flagship conference, Consultation on Conscience. We began last night with an exciting keynote speaker in our historic and impressive Washington Hebrew Congregation. The speaker, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice and URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs had a wonderful, open conversation. It was interesting and so informative.
Over the past few months, we have received many calls from engaged congregants and members of social action committees asking the same question: How can my congregation get involved in local and national campaigns? As Congress takes up important causes such as gun violence prevention and LGBT rights, we all want to know how we can make a difference. At an engaging workshop at the Consultation on Conscience, Rachel Laser, Deputy Director of the Religious Action Center, talked about the importance of mobilizing our congregations in national campaigns around social justice issues.