In anticipation of the release of CCAR Press’s forthcoming publication, Moral Resistance and Spiritual Authority: Our Jewish Obligation to Social Justice, we invited Rabbi Karen R. Perolman, to share an excerpt of the chapter that she wrote.
What prevents us from directly and regularly engaging in social justice work? So many of us want to make a difference and help to repair what is broken in our world, and yet, it can often feel overwhelming. Instead of doing anything, we feel paralyzed; we sit at home reading articles or watching other people’s actions posted on social media. What can push us past thought toward action? In my experience and opinion, the tipping point for action is training. Social justice classes, seminars, groups—all the different intentional experiences that fall under the category of “trainings”—are essential to move us from the mere desire to act to actual action. Through these trainings, participants gain community, confidence, and concrete knowledge in order to act with purpose and presence.
I recommend to every reader that they go and seek out a training opportunity in order to gain the concrete knowledge, help see themselves as part of a community, and gain the inner confidence needed to stand up to systemic oppression.
Trainings are the perfect environment to create organic community. Instead of forcing a group of people to come together, trainings attract like-minded individuals who are both open to and interested in learning. Since trainings are often held in university, religious, or communal spaces, they will appeal to those who are already active in their community. A social justice training also often appeals to those with a curious and interested mind-set. These may be individuals who not only want to participate in civil and communal life, but also are seeking relationships with others like them. These may be those who are already active in their individual faith or area community or who are likely to go beyond their safe and comfortable circles. One of the tremendous benefits of attending training is the interwoven circles of community to which each participant becomes immediately connected.
Through the single act of attending one training, one can become linked in what I think of as a shalshelet hatikkun, a chain of repair that has the power to right the wrongs of our world through thoughtful and direct action.
Confidence is often tied to our own sense of self, and often our lack of confidence is connected to our having experienced powerlessness. Trainings create the opportunity for dedicated, passionate individuals to work through their own experiences of oppression, inequality, or trauma so that they might find their own inner strength. In order to speak truth to power, it is essential for those in positions of leadership in community organizations to have insight and reflection regarding their own feelings of power and powerlessness. Through multi-day trainings, one can first work through one’s own personal experiences and then build the self-confidence that will be critical in the work of organizing and justice.
More than ever, information on every subject is available almost immediately in the palms of our hands. Despite the relative ease by which we can access information on every facet of social justice, the dissemination of misinformation can be just as prevalent. In the age of googling experts, there is nothing that feels as authentic as going to an IRL training session with live professionals whose goal is not to pass on information about issues or policy, but to impart knowledge about how a group of dedicated individuals can effect constructive change.
In short, here are three reasons to attend a community organizing or social justice training:
- To learn firsthand from experts and seasoned organizers.
- To take the opportunity to rehearse, build confidence, and work through any personal baggage.
- To meet like-minded individuals and build community.
In the years since I attended that first IAF training, I have found myself in many similar rooms focused on training as passing on the knowledge born of experience. Every time I walk out of those rooms—often at the end of a long day or days—I always have the same feelings: humility for all that I do not know, hunger to make a difference, and a sense of hurry to get to work. After all, the world isn’t going to fix itself.
Rabbi Karen R. Perolman serves Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, New Jersey, and is a contributor to CCAR Press’s forthcoming publication, Moral Resistance and Spiritual Authority: Our Jewish Obligation to Social Justice, now available for pre-order.