A congregation's social action efforts are often addressed by a few people or a single committee through tzedakah and g'milut chasidim. BJBE's Panim el Panim initiative makes social justice a central part of the life of the congregation, adding a third component to social action--engaging the entire congregation in shinui kivun (changing direction or challenging the status quo).
What is Panim el Panim? Hebrew for "face to face," Panim el Panim is BJBE's congregation based community organizing initiative. Central to Panim el Panim is the relational meeting, a one-on-one, face-to-face conversation. Officially launched with Rabbi Linder's 2005 High Holy day sermon, Panim el Panim brings BJBE members together in these face-to-face conversations building relationships by identifying shared values and concerns and sharing the stories behind them. Creating new relationships builds a community of trust, collaboration and challenge.
In our first year, trained lay leadership engaged more than 100 members in these conversations. Relationships deepened as, in hearing one another's stories, we recognized our own concerns and struggles. From these conversations, we learned that many of our members deeply wanted to make a difference and yet felt powerless to do so in any meaningful way, particularly in the areas of education and health care. From there, committees were formed to learn more about these concerns. Leaders were trained in the concepts, strategies and methods of community organizing. More than 20 house meetings were held to identify issues on which to pursue action. We developed relationships with other congregations and community groups also concerned and affected by these issues. Last April, at the Consultation on Conscience in Washington, D.C., BJBE was awarded the prestigious Irving J. Fain Social Action Award from the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism. BJBE's success with Panim el Panim led to its selection as he first mentor congregation for the Union for Reform Judaism's "Just Congregations" program. To date, we have engaged in over 200 face to face conversations within BJBE.
What's happening now?
Health Care Committee: So many of the conversations surfaced stories about battles with the health care system. Our congregants expressed concern for themselves, their aging parents and their young adult children, so often unable to afford health insurance. They were concerned for the 47 million uninsured people in this country. In spring 2007, BJBE hosted an assembly attended by over 300 people representing 15 congregations in support of Illinois Senate Bill 005, which proposed to expand access to existing health care programs and create an affordable quality option for all men and women and small businesses in Illinois. Individual stories were shared by those affected by the lack of affordable health care. The five Illinois legislators in attendance also heard these stories. The Health Care committee engaged congregants to meet with, write to and call other Illinois legislators urging their support for the bill. Currently, the Health Care committee is working with United Power for Action and Justice to secure passage of Illinois legislation that will increase to age 29, young adult children who may be covered on their parents' policies.
Early Education Equity Committee: Meeting one on one in conversations, we heard concerns about the lack of quality education for all. Through house meetings with parents and educators, as well as the relationships we developed with 20 different independent institutions, local school leadership and community organizations, the committee's focus turned to early childcare and learning. The committee honed a goal: making quality childcare and preschool for young children at risk for school failure more accessible, beginning in the Glenview community. Currently, we are represented on the Glenview Coalition for Early Childhood Education and in dialogue with our state representatives. The committee is working to support a local tutoring program and in concert with the District 34 Bilingual Parent Advisory Committee to discern the needs of the local native Spanish speaking community.
Through Panim el Panim, BJBE has become a congregation acting on its Jewish values. Through and with United Power for Action and Justice, we are allied with other synagogues, churches, mosques and community organizations all around the Chicago area that are engaging in similar efforts. Through this coalition, we act together, and across lines of faith, class, and race to address the root causes of social injustice, strengthening our movement toward tikkun olam, healing the world.
To arrange a one-on-one, conversation, contact Lynn at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For information on the Health Care committee, contact Bobbie (847) 947-2854 or email@example.com.
For information on the Early Education Equity committee, contact Beth at (847)724-1137 or firstname.lastname@example.org
For general information, contact the Temple office at 847-940-7575.