Social Action Committee

on Sunday, 05 August 2012.

#1 Who are We and What is Social Action?

"Jew" is not a well-defined term to any but a follower of Orthodoxy. A Jewish mother or an Orthodox conversion to Judaism are the two characteristics that qualify a Jew for the Orthodox. For the non-Jew or the Jew who is not following Orthodox rules, the definition is fuzzy. The broadest definition includes anyone raised in a home that had been labeled "Jewish" or anyone who had converted to any variant of Judaism. No definition involves a Jewish race or even a defined ethnicity. Even the Orthodox recognize Arab, African, Asian and European "Jews". How do we in this community define ourselves as Jews?

Whether Beth Am or Tabernacle, we all connect to the rabbinic tradition that has evolved over more than two millennia, that at a minimum connects all European and Arab Jews and other Jews who recognize an affiliation with Torah and Talmud. Tabernacle or Beth Am traditions fit within a sub-group of "Jew" within that ancient tradition – Liberal Judaism. That is a minority of the persons who consider themselves Jews, who are either traditionalist or secular. We are neither. Most of us recognize the Eternal, whether as a divine person or a mystery at the foundation of all. Some of us are truly secular, and see divinity as a fiction that serves to unite us. Theology is not central to our communities, nor is it for Liberal Jews generally. We engage in the act of worship without the need to capture the divine in words. We see our fulfillment as Jews through "worship, study and acts of loving kindness." Holiness is found in community and ethical action. That is who we are, whether we are converts or descendants of German Reform or Eastern European Orthodoxy.

Social Action involves both study and action, and for some is a form of worship. It is a species of "acts of loving kindness" that involves awareness of and caring for persons beyond our immediate community. It was manifest in the support for Soviet Jews and in participation in the Civil Rights Movement. Social Action is central to the identity of a Liberal Jew, who could be a Republican, Democrat or Socialist or a person who commits to social solidarity without a label. It seems to me that it is an identity that excludes as well as unites, for it relates to the memory of ancestral slavery and the commandments to cherish that memory and to love the other as ourselves. Social Action as a Liberal Jew includes rabbis marching with Martin Luther King, but not the assassins of Rabin. It is not passive when confronted with oppression of any person, Jew or non-Jew.

What is your reaction to the preceding as a definition of who we are and what Social Action means in our congregation? We should have a common ground on these basics on which we can build programs that represent our tradition.

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