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GTP Organizing Guide


NEHEMIAH AS A GUIDE

TO RESTORING CONFIDENCE

IN CONGREGATIONAL COMMUNITY

 

ORGANIZING STEPS

NEHEMIAH'S ACTION

CONGREGATIONAL ACTION

STEP ONE

How can confidence in congregational community be restored? Begin by listening and challenging.

NEHEMIAH LISTENED AND CHALLENGED

Nehemiah observed the demoralization of the people—the housing was destroyed, the security of the wall and gates was breached. The people were immobilized from acting to deal with the conditions that were undermining their families and community.

A CONGREGATIONAL KHEVRA (GROUP) LISTENS TO THE TROUBLES OF THE PEOPLE AND CHALLENGES THEM TO DO MITZVOT (COMMANDMENTS) TOGETHER THAT WILL RELIEVE THEIR PRESSURES AND REALIZE THEIR HOPES.

Many of us are now living with destructive pressures and we no longer believe that we or our congregation or Judaism or our God have any power to do anything about those pressures.

A khevra of congregation members begins by getting to know members of the congregation better, through panim-el-panim (face-to-face) home visits.

Members of the khevra, over a period of several months, may visit 50 to 300 members of their own congregation, depending on their numbers and the size of the congregation. They may also visit others who have a common self-interest. Their visits are concentrated initially on getting acquainted and identifying pressures in daily life, and in challenging them to do a mitzvah (commanded act) with others in the synagogue that would do something about those pressures.

The panim-el-panim visiting increases the ownership of the mitzvah by many members of the congregation.

STEP TWO

How many troubles should you work on at one time?

NEHEMIAH BEGAN BY REBUILDING THE WALL

Nehemiah proposed that people begin by rebuilding the wall and the gates.

THE KHEVRA BEGINS WITH ONE TROUBLE

After doing many visits and reaching a consensus among themselves on a broad concern, "young people in trouble" for instance, the khevra identifies more specific problems for research.

Success is critical to rebuilding confidence, and success requires the focusing of resources. The khevra uses well-developed criteria to decide what they want to begin with, the most important of which is that they only work on things that unify them, because they reflect their common concerns.

STEP THREE

How can you learn more about the nature of the trouble and what you might do about it?

NEHEMIAH DID RESEARCH

Nehemiah surveyed the city. Once he understood the pressures experienced by the people, he went to the officials who were responsible. He confirmed the facts of the situation by questioning them about their behavior.

THE KHEVRA DOES RESEARCH

Delegations of a half-dozen or more members of the khevra arrange meetings with local experts and decision-makers in the larger community, those who have relevant information or the power to make a decision about the pressure. The khevra's objective is to learn more about the pressures they have identified, and to learn what institutional authorities are doing, are proposing to do, or are not doing about those problems.

So, for example, if the khevra found that local liquor stores selling alcohol to underage young people was the most widely shared concern in the congregation, research might start with a half-dozen khevra members meeting with an Alcohol Beverage Control official to learn more about the laws affecting liquor retailers and about law enforcement options.

STEP FOUR

How can you decide what to do about the trouble?

NEHEMIAH ORGANIZED BOTH SELF-HELP AND ACCOUNTABILITY ACTIONS

Part of Nehemiah's strategy was in the self-help genre, rebuilding the wall, and part of it was in the vein of holding officials accountable, targeting usurious interest rates that were bleeding the people. He was angry to hear that the people were being exploited by their own officials, and he decided to bring charges against the officials.

He went to them and said, "You make claims for debt, each from his brother." When the officials were silent in the face of his challenges, he decided to organize a large meeting at which the officials would be publicly held accountable. He organized a "great assembly," roughly comparable to what we call a kahal poalei tzedek (a congregational community of doers of justice and righteousness), at which the officials were held accountable.

THE KHEVRA FORMULATES A STRATEGY FROM A VARIETY OF APPROACHES

The khevra members devise a strategy to do a mitzvah as a congregation. The khevra plans how the congregation can act as a body to achieve a solution to the pressure the group has identified. Such actions may involve self-help, such as a fix-up day in a local park; advocacy, such as recruiting and training members of the congregation to "advocate" for elderly nursing home patients who cannot defend their own interests; service, such as recruiting members of the congregation to supervise an after-school study hall for "larch-key" children; and accountability, such as bringing together many members of the congregation to hold local liquor store owners accounbtable for training their employees not to sell liquor to minors.

Accountability actions are also directed at decision-makers in public and nonprofit organizations. The khevra may want to hold institutional decision-makers accountable, much as Nehemiah did. Although other approaches to the problem, such as service, self-help, education, and mutual aid may be useful, the preferred approach initially is to hold decision-makers accountable, since this approach usually offers the greatest potential to bring about change.

STEP FIVE

What happens when the congregation does a mitzvah?

KEHILA GEDOLAH

At the great assembly that Nehemiah convened, the officials were confronted with selling their own kin who, afterwards, had to be redeemed by their families.

The officials were then challenged by Nehemiah: "What you are doing is not good. Should you not walk in the fear of our God because of the taunts of the nations our enemies."

They were further challenged to restore to the people their property and the interest they had paid. In response, the officials promised to ". . . return them and require nothing from them."

KAHAL POALEI TZEDEK

What does doing a mitzvah as a kahal poalei tzedek (a congregational community of doers of justice and righteousness) look like?

The purpose of the assembly for action is to reduce and resolve the pressure by doing a mitzvah, such as removing a stumbling block, as a congregation.

So, for example, the synagogue might invite liquor store owners to meet with a large group of the congregation's members. Their goals, based on their research, might be to get the liquor store owners to agree to increased training for store employees and changes in store policy on "carding" youthful-looking customers.

The kahal poalei tzedek engages in a highly planned and disciplined activity to achieve these goals.

STEP SIX

What do you do with the good you have created? We learn and teach from it, and use it to create greater good—more mitzvot.

KRIAT TORAH

When the campaign to renew Jerusalem's wall and gates was ending, Nehemiah gathered virtually all of the population of the city and the surrounding countryside to hear Kriat Torah (reading of Torah). They had rebuilt their confidence by rebuilding the wall and gates, and now their hearts and minds were open to hearing the blessings and commandments of Torah.

Moreover, Nehemiah gathered the leaders—heads of families, priests, and Levites, including Ezra—to figure out what the people should do following the rebuilding of the wall and gates. The leaders studied the Torah to do that. Then, with Ezra's teaching, they went on to rebuild the city and the nation.

KRIAT TORAH

Kriat Torah is a congregational organizing event that combines prayer and thanksgiving, celebration, and learning.

The learning is focused on the mitzvah that has been done and on what mitzvot to do in the future.

There are three major Kriat Torah objectives: (1) to overlay Torah on the experience of kahal poalei tzedek, thereby raising up the larger meaning of the struggles of the people; (2) to overlay the experience of the people on the words of Torah, thereby incorporating into Torah the present pain and hope of the people; and (3), with the reciprocal relationship of life and Torah established, to begin to understand more deeply the Torah's spiritual and religious requirements for rebuilding the city in the image of God.


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© 2007 Khevra shel Kharakim










Updated: 9/16/07