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Beyond Kvetching and Handwringing: Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

There are those who look out at our country and our world, kvetch and complain, and then turn back inward, content that their kvetching was enough. 

There are those who see injustice, wring their hands and worry in silence about the effects of this action or that, and then compartmentalize the anxiety and go back to a good book. 

And then there is the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism (RAC), the Washington DC address of our Jewish values, which daily moves beyond the handwringing and kvetching to ensure the world tips in the direction of tzedek (justice), rachamim (compassion) and emet (truth). This small group of people, led by the indefatigable  Rabbi David Saperstein and the tireless Mark Pelavin, take  talmudic Rabbi Tarfon’s dictum (lo alecha – yours is not to complete the task but neither can you desist from it), and run in so many holy directions that it is hard to keep up. 

Directing an army of 20-something year old Legislative Assistants, their bare bones staff take on more issues than any of us can count. They stay up on the current legislation, meet with high-powered congressional aides and communal lobbyists, and move forward an agenda growing out of the values of Torah. Masters of the crucial art of coalition building, they make friends from across the political spectrum to ensure that our Jewish values do make a difference in the world. They move upstream, always searching for causes instead of just responding to effects. Then, with finesse, they turn to rabbis and lay leaders around the country – through their Chai Action networks – to teach and pressure our legislators to vote for moderate Jewish values of decency and justice. 

I experienced all this once when, in 1985-86, I served as an Eisendrath Fellow, metaphorically chained to a desk, seeking every opportunity to effect bracha (blessing) in our world. Superfund Cleanup, Economic Justice, Shabbat HaGadol and The Sanctuary movement for Central American Refugees were in my portfolio. I helped organize the first Tzedek Society fundraising drive. I debated the Sanctuary movement opposite the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Central American. Those were heady times for a 22 year old. 

Ani v’atah nishaneh et haolam – you and I will change the world. So we sang in NFTY. The Religious Action Center taught me how. 

So this week, as I rabbi out on the far West Coast, I returned home, to the RAC’s Consultation on Conscience, to learn, and argue and come to understand new perspectives on current challenges. To remember that kol dracheha shalom – that all the ways of Torah should lead to peace. we heard from VP Al Gore, Rep. Howard Berman, John Prendergast of Enough Project, Jacob Lew of the White House OMB, and Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood. And more and more. 

If my parents Linda and Ken Kipnes nurtured me on social action, and NFTY and Kutz camp strengthened the Jewish underpinnings and contemporary impetus to act, then Rabbi David Saperstein and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism transformed and transforms me with the perspectives and skills to be a Jewish agent of change in my community, country and world. 

 We came here with 6 Congregation Or Ami members (plus our kid, your press Secretary Eric Harris). We will go home, change the world for the better, and come back at the next Consultation with double the number. Happy 50th anniversary Religious Action Center.

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