The Philadelphia metropolitan area may present some exciting new horizons in the world of Jewish organizing. It occupies a strategically important position in a politically important “swing state”, is home to a large and established Jewish community, and may harbor a growing number of untapped social justice funders. Up until now, the Jewish community has represented only a small part of the broad-based community organizing movement in Philly, but it may be that this is about to change.
That is where Cecily Harwitt enters the picture. Cecily is a proud alumna of the Jewish Organizing Fellowship class of2010 and former organizer at Somerville Community Corporation, Cecily recently moved to Philadelphia to begin work as an organizer for the congregation-based POWER (Philadelphians Organized to Witness Empower and Rebuild). At the end of last month, Cecily had the opportunity to work with JOIN’s Director of Organizing, Meir Lakein to train a dozen Reconstructionist clergy and seminary students representing 4 Philly-area congregations and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in the basics of broad-based organizing. For Cecily this 3-day intensive workshop not only presented an opportunity to equip present and future Jewish leaders with organizing skills, but may also represent the beginning of a broader effort to connect Jewish congregations in Philadelphia with other faith-based communities and to harness their power for the struggle for Justice there. Cecily had this to say about the experience:
“…we all had a chance to come together and think very hard and very critically about how synagogues relate to other communities and what synagogues might have to gain from being part of the larger broad-based organizing movement in Philly. We heard a lot of stories about synagogues being in service relationships with other communities and from that we had a chance to think about what a different kind of relationship, a two-way relationship would look like. I think that was very energizing for all of us. We had some very honest conversations around Tikkun Olam. That when we as Jews think about repairing the world we often think about addressing problems that are far away. We find it difficult to identify and address our own problems as a community. The participants named this, but they also began to see that organizing is a way that synagogues can confront their own issues as communities and that this can be more meaningful and more sustainable than focusing on the far away…. This training aslo gave me a chance to start building relationships that can bring these synagogues closer to my organization and ultimately build POWER’s capacity to make change in Philadelphia…Currently POWER only counts 3 synagogues amongst its members so there’s a lot of potential there. “
Whether these 3 days of conversation represent a new chapter in the narrative of the broad-based organizing movement or were just a moment of deep learning for the rabbis and students involved, only time will tell. The sense of possibility here, however, is real and it is the hope of JOIN for Justice that Cecily and Meir’s work represents the first step of a larger endeavor.
Want to Learn More about POWER or RRC? Check them out on the web at www.powerphiladelphia.org or www.rrc.edu .
What is broad-based organizing? Learn about the model at piconetwork.org .