Inteview with Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, '85, Director of the Social Justice Organizing Program
The Social Justice Organizing (SJO) program at RRC trains rabbis to be Jewish leaders in bringing about a socially just, environmentally sustainable and spiritually fulfilling society. It is the first specialized academic track at a Jewish seminary to focus on justice organizing. The values and goals of the program inform all of RRC's academic and community life. Through coursework and supervised internships, the program develops rabbis who:
· can authentically integrate their passion for justice with Judaism
· are grounded in Jewish tradition, text and history
· know their personal mission as rabbis
· have an understanding of systems of power and money that dominate today's world
· have the skills to both participate in and help lead transformative change.
Students are expected to cultivate the qualities of personal reflection, humility, compassion, courage, and connection to the earth and all creation.They acquire skills in finance (e.g., reading budgets, fundraising), nonprofit administration, active listening, social entrepreneurship, community organizing and nonviolent action, and learn how the Jewish community functions.
Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, '85, leads this RRC initiative. He is uniquely qualified to teach and mentor spiritual leaders who can inspire and organize the pursuit of justice rooted in Jewish traditions, fueled by caring rather than rage. Liebling also supervises RRC students doing internships in justice organizing and in multifaith initiatives.
All rabbinical students have access to the courses and field internships offered by the Social Justice Organizing program. Students who wish to build their rabbinates around this work can also choose to specialize in SJO. Prospective students with questions about the SJO program should contact Rabbi Amber Powers, assistant vice president for enrollment and rabbinic formation, 215.576.0800, ext. 123.
Community-wide Social Justice Focus
Elsie Stern, Ph.D., assistant professor of Bible
The Jewish response to social privilege and grace (4 minutes)
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Concern for social justice permeates the RRC community. In the 2011-12 academic year, students and faculty focused on the changing racial make-up of the Jewish community and its implications for rabbinical leadership. Workshops, faculty in-service training, and a day-long yom iyyun (day of learning) explored Jewish racial diversity, white privilege and anti-racism skills. An array of nationally recognized guest speakers participated. The talk by Stern (use audio player, above) was first delivered as a dvar torah (setting of intention or inspiration) at the start of a faculty meeting on this topic.
Sample Courses Offered in Social Justice
Leadership for Social Justice
Instructor: Rabbi Mordechai Liebling
Rabbis lead in a variety of contexts and each individual must develop an approach that is appropriate to the context and is authentic to the self.This class is based in the teachings of transformational leadership. Students develop:
· clarity of their own personal mission
· spiritual, emotional and social intelligence skills
· the “soft arts” of organizing: listening, empathy and thoughtfulness
· personal ecology
There is significant internal work on developing the ability to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This course provides a basis for advanced leadership (see course description below).
Instructor: Rabbi Mordechai Liebling
Judaism has been deeply intertwined with the food production, consumption and distribution since its origins. Food is connected to nourishing our physical, emotional and spiritual lives. This course covers traditional Jewish teachings about food—from the Bible to eco-kashrut —and current issues regarding food justice and sustainability. Attention is given to how Jewish teachings inform our responses to these contemporary issues and how food cam be a tool for organizing in the Jewish community. There is a service learning component.
Money in Our Lives and in Society
Instructor: Rabbi Mordechai Liebling
The Talmud teaches: “One who wishes to acquire wisdom should study the way money works, for there is no greater area of Torah study than this. It is like an ever flowing stream...” Participants in this course wlll examine various aspects of how money works in their own lives, in institutions that they may serve, in Jewish history and in the larger society. Materials will include traditional Jewish sources as well as current economic and financial teachings for practical and theoretical lessons. There will be an experiential component to the class.
The Food Chain
From its origins, Judaism has been deeply intertwined with the production, consumption and distribution of food. Nourishment is connected to feeding our physical, emotional and spiritual lives. This course will study the evolution of traditional Jewish teachings about food, from the Bible to eco-kashrut. Attention will be given to how these teachings inform our responses to contemporary issues such as sustainability, food justice and how to use food to organize in the Jewish community.
Congregation-Based Community Organizing
The course will teach the basic skills and arts of CBCO, training rabbis to create covenantal communities based on relationships. We will address the use of power and relationships in public life; how rabbis can identify and develop leaders; and ways to bring the synagogue into the public square.
Building on skills learned in the leadership course, we will address personal alignment; inspiring and helping others to align to work effectively for common goals; partnership building; having difficult conversations; conflict resolution and negotiation; social identities; and examining our own racism.
Judaism and the Ecological Crisis
The course will address Jewish teachings about our relationship to the environment and our place in the ecology of the earth. We will examine Jewish texts and tradition as well as other spiritual approaches and scientific thinking. Attention will be given to the different types of activism needed to achieve a sustainable environment.
Social Justice and Multifaith Supervision
In addition, there is a supervision class for interns in the social justice and multi-faith programs. This is designed to help students get the most from their internships and to integrate their outside work with their academic experience.
The department may also offer two- to four-day intensives in non-violent civil disobedience, particular aspects of community organizing and reflective service learning.
SJO internships reflect the wide array of issues, settings and activities that attract individual RRC students. Some interns work with congregations to manage projects they are invested in, and some work directly with community groups and advocacy organizations. Recent SJO and multifaith interships have included:
· working on immigration reform with the oldest Jewish immigrant aid society
in North America
· leading an interfaith youth program at a renowned Jewish Day School
· working with a Jewish environmental organization about urban farming
· promoting cross-faith alliances for a regional environmental-advocacy group.