How do we decide which issue(s) to work on?

Just Congregations follows a model of congregation-based community organizing. The key tool in this model is the personal face-to-face meeting in which members of the Just Congregations core team have individual conversations with congregants to learn who they are, what they care about and why and to identify whether there are issues on which they want to spend their time and energy. The issues that emerge from these conversations suggest areas of shared interest and concern that might lead to shared action to bring about systemic solutions to social problems. When shared interests are identified, there is further exploration – including in meetings with groups of congregants – to determine whether the concern(s) identified could lend themselves to action at the local or regional level and whether there is a sufficient number of congregants willing to pursue the issue(s) in greater depth. If the answer is yes, Just Congregations forms an issue team to learn more about the issue and develop an action focus.

What is Just Congregations currently working on?

Aging with Dignity
Through numerous conversations with our congregants, aging-related concerns have emerged as an issue that deeply affects our congregants and the larger community – those who are aging and elderly as well as those who are caring for aging relatives – and around which there is the potential for both direct service action within the congregation and political action in the larger community. We have formed an Aging with Dignity issue team of a dozen congregants and are deeply engaged in the “research” phase of action, which includes identifying and reaching out to those in Solel and the larger community who have expertise on aging issues so that we can better understand what these issues are and in what way(s) we might be able to make a difference. In addition, we are working on developing our Just Congregations webpage as a resource tool for congregants to find information on specific aging topics.

One of the key stumbling blocks related to aging is the lack of awareness of and/or the difficulty in accessing needed services and support that make it possible for aging people to continue living independently. Through its research, the issue team has learned about a “village” model for addressing this problem that has been implemented successfully in other communities. There is a great deal of enthusiasm around this model and the issue team is now exploring whether working to bring it to the Highland Park-Deerfield community would be a meaningful action focus. If the model continues to seem promising, the issue team will organize several small group meetings with congregants, professionals involved in aging issues, and representatives from other congregations and groups in the larger community, to get feedback and ideas and to identify a larger group of leaders to develop an action plan.

Illinois Fair Map Amendment
In mid-January 2017 Lake County United (LCU) – the broad-based organizing network that Solel is affiliated with – joined with the League of Women Voters, Common Cause, Better Government Association, former members of the Illinois Reform Commission, Illinois Campaign for Political Reform and United Power for Acton and Justice among others in a petition drive to put the Illinois Fair Map Amendment on the November ballot. The Illinois Fair Map is a citizen’s initiative to de-politicize Illinois’ decennial legislative redistricting process by making it more transparent, fair and accessible to the public. Members of our core team and other Solelites will join with other citizens throughout the state to gather 500,000 signatures by April 1, 2010. For more information about Illinois Fair Map, go to www.ilfairmap.com.

Other Lake County United Issues
Currently LCU efforts are focused on influencing the County’s redevelopment of the Winchester House site as a state of the art community for seniors and the disabled. LCU is also working on the charter school initiative in Waukegan as well as the Waukegan to College initiative. Just Congregations turns out congregants for LCU actions around these and other issues both to provide input to their work and to support their efforts.

How does Just Congregations interact with the broader Jewish community?

Our Just Congregations effort at Solel is an outgrowth of the Just Congregations initiative of the URJ that encourages congregations to adopt the congregation-based community organizing model for working on social change and building community. There are now more than 75 Reform congregations using this model, including several in the Chicagoland area. Solel receives guidance and support from the national staff, including from our own Julie Chizewer Weil who is based in the area; and members of our core team participate in trainings and attend meetings in the Chicago area that enable us to network, share experiences and develop relationships with sister congregations using this model. We also attend each other’s actions to show support and to learn from one another. In addition, Solel has helped to reach out to other Jewish congregations that are considering this model and invites them to attend our actions.

How does Just Congregations interact with the larger community?

A key element in the congregation-based community organizing model is affiliation with a broad-based organizing group. Solel has joined Lake County United (LCU), a non-profit, non-partisan organization of churches, synagogues, mosques, civic and labor groups that works across lines of faith, race and class. LCU, in turn, is part of a larger national organizing network known as the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF). Solel is represented on the LCU Steering Committee, which determines the issues LCU takes on. Our participation in LCU enables us to develop relationships with other congregations and civic groups and to multiply our strength and enhance our effectiveness. Solel participates in LCU trainings and actions (typically we are represented by at least 2 and very often several congregants who vary depending on the event), and LCU’s organizer provides us with technical assistance for our internal organizing work within Solel. As a direct result of participating in house meetings and discussions connected to the Winchester House effort, Solel congregants identified issues directly impacting our Solel members and their parents related to aging with dignity. Some of our congregants have become involved in mentoring projects as a result of our participation in LCU.

What are some of the key activities of Just Congregations?

  • We have had more than 150 one-to-one conversations with fellow congregants and have recently embarked on a new round of one-to-one conversations with Solel’s leaders.
  • We have held small group meetings with congregants, including a joint small group meeting with Highland Park Presbyterian Church. Through these meetings, we were able to provide input to LCU’s white paper on Aging Well in Lake County, developed to assist the County as it plans for developing a new Winchester site. These meetings also helped us to hone in on issues of concern within Solel and contributed to the creation of the Aging with Dignity issue team. We anticipate holding more small group meetings in the current year as our work on Aging with Dignity progresses.
  • Members of the core team participate in LCU trainings and actions and often involve other congregants.
  • In May 2009, Solel hosted an assembly organized by LCU and other IAF affiliates in the Chicago area, at which nearly 700 people (including some 60-70 Solelites) engaged in dialogue with Governor Quinn on concerns about a fair and responsible budget, affordable housing, education reform and political corruption.
  • The Aging with Dignity Issue Team of a dozen congregants is in the process of researching issues related to aging and developing an action focus. We anticipate that moving forward on an action focus will entail small group meetings within Solel and organizing efforts in the larger community, including developing partnerships with other local congregations and organizations.
  • In February 2010, Solel will host the kick-off meeting for LCU’s participation in the Illinois Fair Map petition drive. We anticipate that several Solelites will be involved in circulating petitions to put the Illinois Fair Map Amendment on the November 2010 ballot.
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