Congregation Based Community Organizing (CBCO)
Embracing our tradition of social justice, Emanu-El's Congregation Based Community Organizing (CBCO) initiative is working to forge a stronger and deeper sense of community within our Congregation. By identifying, researching, and acting on critical issues raised by congregants, our work will provide ongoing opportunities to strengthen and foster new relationships within our Congregation and empower us to be an advocate for systemic change in our communities.
Panim el Panim
The Emanu-El working group is called Panim el Panim, which literally translates to "face to face" and metaphorically reflects the intimacy that Moses and God experienced during Revelation. Panim el Panim is working to build a stronger and deeper sense of community within our congregation by facilitating opportunities for congregants to share personal concerns with one another. This work fosters new relationships and strengthens existing connections, while addressing issues of systemic change.
(From left to right:Front row: Erika Katske (San Francisco Organizing Project), Roberta Fudim, Sarah Imber Safdar, Liz Ungar, Liz Winograd, Audrey Adelson, Diane Winer Top Row: Stuart Lustig, Staurt Oppenheim, Haiyan Yang Lustig, Rabbi Carla Fenves, Jocelyn Corbett, Karen Lichtenberg Scher, Brooke Agee, Andrew Beckman, Terry Kraus, Leo Fuchs, Luis Yaquian,Howard Winer Not in Photo: Sarah Neiman, Matt Kelemen, Natasha Fain, Noelle Galperin, Katy Greenspan, Seth Linden, Cynthia Vaughn, Mats Olson and Sandy Rechtschaffen)
Social Justice Issue
A good education is the key foundation every child needs to succeed in the world today. Education inequality has become a major issue. Many of the children from low-income and middle-income families are not receiving an equal or quality education compared to children from high-income families. With fast growing markets and fierce competition, these children will be unable to compete with other individuals and make a decent living unless we make systemic changes.
Jewish Response to Unequal Education
In the Talmud, tikkun haolam is a response not to one person but to a perception of overarching injustice and that existing law must be modified to create a more balanced society. It is our attempt to mend the Divine realm through the active performance of God’s commandments.
“It is not upon you to finish the task, nor are you free to desist from it.” —(Pirkei Avot 2:21)
Congregation Emanu-El, Panim el Panim (PeP), and the Standard
Over two years ago, Congregation Emanu-El’s (CEE) Social Justice Committee embarked on a new program, under the auspices of the San Francisco Organizing Project, to assess the concerns of our congregation. Following hundreds of group and individual conversations, the state of public education in San Francisco emerged as a major concern since it affects our children, congregational membership, and the community. The group working on this project, recently renamed Panim el Panim (PeP), Hebrew for “face to face”, has been fortunate to have Rabbi Carla Fenves working with them since her arrival at the congregation.
The scope of the issues facing public education in our country, and San Francisco in particular, was daunting. After many discussions with teachers, parents, academics, and administrators, we decided that California’s decision in 2010 to join with 45 other states in adopting the newly promulgated Common Core Curriculum Standards represented a timely opportunity for our group. This new Curriculum is widely felt to be an historic positive step for education in the U.S.. Effective implementation of these new standards in the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) faces major challenges, especially in the face of increasingly large cuts to public education funding The cost of the program is estimated at $5.5 million per year for the first three years.
The SFUSD has not yet formulated a specific plan or timetable for its implementation, despite the intention to begin using it in the next academic year.
On May 31, 300 congregants and members of our community gathered in the Martin Meyer Sanctuary with Richard Carranza, the incoming Superintendent of the SFUSD, Dennis Kelly, President of United Educators of San Francisco; Dr. Terry Bergeson, executive director of the San Francisco School Alliance; Norman Yee, president SF Board of Education; and Rachel Norton, vice-president SF Board of Education. Members of PeP shared what we’ve learned in the last several years-- the scope of the issues facing our public school teachers, students, and parents. Our guests were asked to commit to implementing the new Curriculum Standards effectively, equitably and transparently.
We plan to host a public “report back” in October to assess the progress that has been made and the challenges that are surfacing. Our success will be dependent on our ability to focus the communal energy of the congregation on this issue. For more information, contact PEPemanuelsf@gmail.com.
HOPE - Hearing Other People's Experiences
"There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you." - Maya Angelou
Where would we be without the stories of our personal history? These stories are powerful! They heal, inspire, stir emotion... they invite us to become an intimate part of another's experience and in this, we realize how very similar we are in this life. Perhaps we even come to see that we are all one and connected in this amazing universe.
Emanu-El is interested in hearing the voices of our community and has discovered that the process of listening is extraordinary. We all enjoy listening to stories, and often learn from the experiences of others, how people cope with and adapt to trying circumstances. We believe that the sharing of personal stories can be both revelatory and transformational. Through Congregation-Based Community Organizing (CBCO), Emanu-El is beginning to piece together our individual congregant stories and draw out common themes. Storytelling is an art of weaving, of constructing, the product of intimate knowledge.
Good stories entertain, and inspire, and are not something that can be mass-produced. Stories encourage creativity, help in handling emotion and help to make sense of puzzling situations. The same story, repeated often, sends signals about the cultural life of a group. Stories and experience are linked, meaning stories transform into experience and experience turns into stories and says that storytelling goes on almost continually. Stories carry a tremendous responsibility and not enough attention is being paid to their value. Through the act of sincere personal communication (our stories) we share, form bonds with one another and establish commonalities. The process has the potential to heal, strengthen community ties and identify issues of common concern upon which action can be taken.
Please consider sharing your story or learning how to listen to other congregant's to glean their story. Contact Community Engagement Manager, Sandy Rechtschaffen at (415) 751-2541 x 177 or email@example.com
Sarah Neiman's Story:
I am a transplant from Southern California, where I lived for 32 years. Joining Congregation Emanu-El five years ago was my first step in trying to feel less dislocated and isolated here in the Bay Area. My husband and I initially felt welcomed when we went to the dinner for new members and a reception at the home of a Board member.
I joined the afternoon book club. We took ballroom dancing classes at the congregation. We went to services and knew hardly anyone. We belonged, but really did not feel part of any community.
One night my husband came home after services with a card inviting members to participate in a house meeting. I had no idea what to expect, but I knew I wanted to attend one. At that meeting, there was a palpable sense of reaching out to each other with our own struggles and concerns and being heard. I was struck by the array of different difficulties and problems that people believed the congregation might help mitigate through its community building efforts.
Members who were single, who had no children, or who had little or no extended family voiced their concerns about getting older and not having a support system. Almost everyone was concerned with some aspect of education and its effect on our communities. I talked about feeling isolated, a feeling that persisted even though there were many activities associated with Emanu- El. It was hard to pinpoint the cause. Was it my own reticence? Was it the sense that people seemed too busy and immersed in their existing relationships to embrace new ones?
On November 10 I attended the listening campaign report-back meeting. I wanted to know more about other people's concerns and what was the next step in the process. I sat at a table with nine other people. As we discussed issues of concern to the group, I found that I had connections with four of the people at the table. At the end of the meeting, I knew that I wanted to be engaged in the building of community at Emanu-El.
For me, this is a rare opportunity to do something of value for our congregation and the larger community. My hope for the community building process is that we will become an even stronger, more connected, caring congregation, and that we will continue to listen to one another and reach out to each other as we work to help meet the challenges we as individuals face, as well as the challenges our congregation and the larger community share.
Want to know what challenges your fellow congregants face?
click here to learn more
Think You Know Who Our Congregants Are? You May be Surprised!
Watch "Our Story" which highlights some of what we heard during our Congregation-Based Community Organizing listening campaign!
Frequently Asked Questions and Answers for Synagogue Leaders Starting CBCO ?
Click to download our FAQ list
San Francisco Organizing Project
Congregation Emanu-El is working with the San Francisco Organizing Project (SFOP) to explore Congregation Based Community Organizing (CBCO), a model of doing effective social justice work that is helping thousands of congregations all over the country make the changes in the community that they want to see. Locally, SFOP works with 35 congregations and schools in 17 different neighborhoods. They‚ve helped residents of San Francisco speak out on issues such as housing, healthcare, education and violence prevention (you can learn more about SFOP at www.sfop.org).
For inquiries regarding any of the above, please contact Community Engagement Director Sandy Rechtschaffen at (415) 751-2541 x 177