JSAN program will teach ways to use resources for social activism

BY MIKE SHERWIN, OF THE JEWISH LIGHT STAFF

An upcoming workshop will teach ways to harness the resources within individual congregations for effective social activism.

The Jewish Social Action Network will hold “Beyond Mitzvah Day: Building a Community of Jewish Social Activists” from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 28 at the Jewish Federation Kopolow Building.

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With representatives from local synagogues’ social action committees, JSAN works to mobilize support for activism within individual congregations and within the community as a whole.

Event co-chairpersons Jill Schupp (from Shaare Emeth), Marilyn Dien (from Brith Sholom Kneseth Israel), Amye Carrigan and Louise Levine (both from B’nai El) worked over the past six months to draw together a diverse group of seven speakers from the community.

“It’s a workshop designed to identify and motivate your congregation members, particularly the younger ones,” said Dien. “We’d like to get them more active in more events at our synagogues.”

Amy Ogle, assistant regional director for the Midwest Council of the Union for Reform Judaism, is providing staff support along with Marci Mayer Eisen, the Bohm social justice initiative coordinator at the Jewish Community Relations Council.

Ogle said “Beyond Mitzvah Day” is a follow-up to a program held last year, when Rabbi Marla Feldman, the director of the commission on social action for Reform Judaism, gave a workshop on motivating people to get involved with social activism issues.

“We hope Beyond Mitzvah Day will take that to the next level,” Ogle said. “It’s intended to be a kind of shot in the arm for people who play a pivotal role in organizing social action committees, so they can do their job more effectively.”

People attending the workshop will all attend two general sessions at the beginning and end of the program, and they will pick two of five sessions during the day to attend.

Topics at the workshop include, “Reaching Younger Leaders,” “Marketing Social Action to Your Congregants,” and “Inspiring Through Jewish Values.”

Levine said the co-chairs and presenters wanted to make sure that workshops will be interactive and engaging.

“It’s going to be a hands-on activity in the different workshops, so when people go they’re not going to be talked to, but they’re going to be actively engaged,” she said.

“When they leave, they’re going to have concrete examples and strategies in how to communicate with their congregants.”

Levine said that after talking to the presenters, she already has new ideas for her social action committee.

“One of the challenges is getting people who are already very busy to consider social action and social justice activities,” she said. One presenter talked about ways to organize over the Internet for people without time to attend a meeting in person.

The featured speaker in the morning general session is Barbara Levin, director of the Alliance for Building Capacity, a program in the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University, which provides support and education for nonprofit organizations.

Levin said she will focus on the role of social justice committees within their congregations.

“There will be many wonderful ideas and creative ways in which they can help their community, but I’m helping them to think inward for a few minutes, to talk about the role of a social action-type committee within the context of a congregation.”

“I want them to see that the value of their committee is not just about what it does for the outside community, but what it does for the inside community,” Levin said.

“It’s not necessarily only about how many cans of food they’re collecting. It’s about connecting to the values of the congregation and how the congregation is really living their Judaism.”

The “Beyond Mitzvah Day” event costs $20 at the door, and includes a continental breakfast, beverages and snacks. For more information, contact Marci at 314-442-3894 or Amy at 314-997-7566. A copy of the brochure can be downloaded by going to www.jcrcstl.org/JSAN.php.