Yasher Koach, Carolyn Kunin
Last week, Carolyn Kunin, WRJ’s director of Programming and Advocacy retired after twenty-one years. We are extremely grateful for the important role Carolyn has played in advancing social justice. The following is a tribute to Carolyn, written by Mark Pelavin, associate director of the Religious Action Center.
Today, after over twenty years of remarkable service, we are saying farewell to one of our Movement’s most effective social activists: Carolyn Kunin, the longtime director of Programming and Advocacy of Women of Reform Judaism.
I’m well aware that some readers will be thinking, “Who is Carolyn Kunin?” But anyone who has been involved with WRJ or the Commission on Social Action knows the answer to that – she is an organizer par excellence, the quintessential social action staff person. I don’t remember ever seeing Carolyn speak at a press conference or give a plenary address at a convention. I have no doubt that she would have done an outstanding job doing so, but her work was different. She was the one behind the scenes, the one who knew just who to invite to speak, the one who knew what issue would resonate most powerfully, the one who knew – always – what questions to ask.
One of the first things I learned when I came to the RAC fifteen years ago was that our Movement has no more effective advocates than the troops of WRJ. In every city I visited, in every congregation I spoke at, WRJ activists were there, leading the way on whatever pressing social justice issue was at hand. The materials that Carolyn prepared for them – especially the guides to implementing their policy statements – were, literally, models of their kind. To this day, the RAC staff collectively aspires to do that as well as Carolyn did, pretty much single-handedly, for WRJ.
I cannot tell you how many conversations I have had – and they were almost always great conversations – that began with the words, “Carolyn suggested I call.” Or how many times I met congregational representatives at some event and had them tell me, “Carolyn told us to come.” To say that she had her finger on the pulse of WRJ’s amazing cadre of Critical Issues chairs would be a vast understatement.
Carolyn also made her – and WRJ’s – presence felt at the Commission on Social Action. It’s strange to imagine a CSA meeting without her. She consistently brought such passion, wisdom, and expertise to our policy debates and to our work connecting with congregations.
Personally, I learned a lot about leadership and professionalism from Carolyn. She taught, by power of her personal example, how to pick your battles, how to weigh in at just the right moment, and how to always be thinking one (or two, or more) steps down the road.
As Carolyn leaves the WRJ staff, we at the RAC and Commission on Social Action say “yasher koach.” Not just in the common meaning of, “Job well done,” but also in the more literal meaning, “There is power.” Carolyn’s work was the work of inspiring activists, educating them, and then harnessing their power in support of the all-too-necessary task of rebuilding our troubled world. The RAC, the CSA, WRJ, the Movement and our entire community are in her debt.
Mark Pelavin is the associate director of the Religious Action Center. He is also the director of the Commission on Social Action.