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Taking Leadership and Inviting People to Connect

After the U.S. presidential election, I decided to take on leadership of social justice work at my reconstructionist synagogue in West Philadelphia (Pennsylvania, USA). I’m now co-chairing a new Committee for Justice and Action along with another person who is not a Co-Counselor.

At all the meetings I am helping to lead, I try to include time for Jews to take turns listening to each other. I also encourage them to trust their thinking and prioritize appreciating themselves as Jews. I think it has already made a difference in how people are able to work together and tell that they can like each other.

My co-chair partner and I have purposely decided to move quite slowly in launching this committee and taking on new projects. This has been a challenge for me but has been so useful. Explaining to others why we are moving slowly has helped me contradict my own patterns of urgency.

On Saturday evening I went to the Philadelphia airport to help rally support for some people who had been detained as they tried to legally enter the country. The group of protesters included a good representation of Jews, many of whom I knew quite well, along with people from my union, so I knew I had support there.

I saw an opportunity to invite people to connect. When one of our chants died down, I stood in front of the group of about a hundred people and asked everyone to take a few minutes to tell someone else in the crowd the story of how their family had come to this country. The suggestion was well received, and it was moving and beautiful to see people turning and talking to each other instead of just shouting together.

I listened to a Jewish man I had just met tell me about his Rabbi grandfather and the communist activist history of his family. He showed me some big feelings quite freely. I told him about how I’d been feeling “survivor’s guilt” because my family had been allowed to enter this country so easily during the beginning of the twentieth century. I’d been feeling like I wanted to be “sent back,” instead of the refugees and legal U.S. residents who were being turned away. I clearly have more work to do on my sense of belonging here in this country.

I’m hoping I can keep discharging, so I can continue to act, and move out from my internalized anti-Jewish oppression.

Zoe Cohen

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

Reprinted from the RC e-mail discussion list for leaders of Jews

(Present Time 187, April 2017)

Last modified: 2020-07-02 14:27:35+00