Rabbi Elizabeth S. Wood

Rabbi Elizabeth S. Wood
Celebrating Havdallah

Friday, May 6, 2011

Happy 50th RAC - Consultation on Conscience

I don't know if you've heard, but DC was THE place to be this last week!
No, I'm not talking about the reaction to Osama Bin Laden's death (although there was much going on related to that). I'm talking about the 50 year celebration of the Religious Action Center and the flagship Consultation on Conscience conference.

In case you don't know, the Religious Action Center (RAC) is the hub of social justice and legislative activity in Washington, D.C. which educates and mobilizes the Reform Jewish community on social concerns. (Read more here). The Consultation on Conscience is the flagship social justice event that brings together Jewish and public policy decision makers to discuss and report on vital issues, concerns, injustices, and events that are important in our Jewish lives and in our lives as Americans.

The conference was tremendously invigorating! I heard speakers ranging on issues of advocacy, civil rights, genocide issues, Israeli and Middle East politics, Planned Parenthood representatives and much more. It was a great chance to hear these speakers engaging our community, listening to our questions and thoughts, to meet other like-minded people with genuine concern for public and social policies, and to connect. Here are just a few highlights:

In my previous blog post, I talked about the importance of environmental justice in New Orleans and in our world. And, wouldn't you know it, Al Gore was our keynote speaker. He was engaging and entertaining, passionate and thoughtful. He spoke of the pure science of what we're doing to our environment - that it cannot be refuted - and how we need to be able to look our children and our children's children in the eye and tell them that we listened, we cared, and we took action to do all we could in order to stop damaging our world.

During one of the Forums, I sat in on a session about Advocacy in Jewish texts. Rabbi Jan Katzew, PhD, director of Lifelong Jewish Learning at the Union for Reform Judaism, spoke about the steps it takes to change someone's attitude into behavior that ultimately changes their character into caring more about social issues in our world. These values, he asserts, are ALL OVER our Jewish texts and we spent much of our time together delving into these sources, debating the importance of being a vocal advocate in our world, and our obligation as Jews to speak out.

I think the highlight of my conference experience was the final day of the conference that took place at the historic Sixth & I congregation. All day long, we heard speakers talk about issues near and dear to their hearts, like Senator Carl Levin on LGBT equality and Representative Rosa DeLauro on women's rights. I was CAPTIVATED by Sister Helen Prejean and her account of working with a death row inmate (made famous by the Susan Sarandon movie Dead Man Walking) that led her to be an ardent supporter of abolishing the death penalty. She combined spirituality, humanity, religion, and public policy. I cried, twice, listening to her story, her passion, and her dedication all from an encounter with another human being.

If you don't know about the RAC or the Consultation, you know a little more now. If you hadn't considered getting involved in these organizations or attending these types of conferences, I urge you to reconsider - they are always inspiring, worthwhile, and engaging. And if you sit by, idly, thinking little of the social injustices in our world and what they may have to do with you as a Jew or as a human being, I beg you to start opening your eyes.

Human rights issues, social issues, economic issues - they are all around us every day. It might be easier to turn away and focus on ourselves, but in that ease comes hardship for others. If you have the ability to help, even in the smallest way, do it. Make a contribution. Take time to educate yourself. Volunteer. Advocate. Challenge. Make a difference in the world we live in and the world we will leave to others.
Lo alecha ham'lacha ligmor v'lo atah ben horin l'hibatil mimena
It is not up to you to complete the work, but neither are you free to ignore it
(Pirke Avot 2:21)