Justice at the Center is Shaare Emeth’s congregation-based community organizing initiative. Our first campaign, Vote Your Values, engaged over 200 volunteers and impacted over 1,000 congregants in the Fall of 2018.
Justice at the Center Update: The Beginning of a New Campaign
After completion of the Vote Your Values campaign last year, Shaare Emeth’s Justice at the Center community organizing initiative has continued to work on social justice advocacy issues important to our congregants. In response to congregational concerns expressed about ongoing racism and social inequality in St. Louis, we have joined a campaign focused on the history of the creation of Beirne Park. The park, located in Creve Coeur near Shaare Emeth, came into existence because Creve Coeur (at the request of and after funding by its citizens) condemned land in an otherwise residential neighborhood. The City condemned and created the park in order to prevent Dr. Howard Venable, an African American ophthalmologist, and his family from building a home in the Creve Coeur Community. The story of Beirne Park and its aftermath represents a stark, very localized example of the long history of systemic racism in St. Louis. Historic, racially motivated policies such as the condemnation of Dr. Venable’s property, ultimately led to the segregation which exists in St. Louis today on a large scale. This segregation is one of the major root causes perpetuating racism, economic inequality and social inequality in our present society.
Justice at the Center will be holding a break out session during the afternoon of Yom Kippur at 1 p.m. for members who want to learn more about this story and its impact. We have also been working with the recently formed Venable Park Coalition to raise awareness of Beirne Park’s story and to help facilitate meaningful steps which the community can take to address this history. Recently, almost 100 citizens (including many congregants) attended a meeting of Creve Coeur residents and city council members to begin a discussion on this topic. To further facilitate discussion and possible action, the City of Creve Coeur is planning a “Coffee with the Mayor” for the evening of November 6 at 7:30 p.m. at the Danforth Plant Science Center. Justice at the Center plans to stay engaged with the Venable Park Coalition, the City and the City’s residents to help determine the direction taken to address the park and its origins.
Whether or not you are a resident of Creve Coeur, your voice is still important. As a member of Shaare Emeth, we all have a vested interest in making sure that Creve Coeur confronts and makes amends for its past in a meaningful way. If you are interested in learning more:
If you have any questions, contact Stacy Jespersen at [email protected].
We look forward to seeing you on October 9th.
Stefanie Greenberg and Bill Remis, Justice at the Center co-hairs
The Vote Your Values Committee celebrated the conclusion of the successful Vote Your Values Campaign with a reflection session and cake!
Reflections and notes from the Vote Your Values Committee celebration and meeting.
After conducing dozens of house meetings, listening to hundreds of congregants and researching a variety of campaigns, Justice at the Center has selected to join the Reform Movement’s national Civic Engagement campaign as our first congregation-based community organizing campaign. Click HERE to learn more about Shaare Emeth’s Vote Your Values.
Shaare Emeth’s Justice at the Center initiative is a congregation-based model of community organizing that aims to address the root causes of injustice. It begins with relationship-building within our Shaare Emeth community. In this first phase of the initiative members sit face-to-face in house meetings listening to one another’s stories about the challenges we face, the injustices we see in our community, and our desire to work toward change. These stories are the building blocks of this initiative as they will help us determine which social justice issue we will tackle first. We have completed our Justice at the Center House Meetings. Thank you to everyone who volunteered to host a meeting and thank you to all who attended.
Justice in the Jewish Tradition
When we look around at the world as it is, we know that this is not the world as it ought to be. There is pain, despair, poverty, injustice and brokenness. As Jews, we are called upon to partner with God in fostering justice and repairing the world in all the places that we can. Our texts call upon us to care for the stranger, the orphan and the widow – traditionally the most vulnerable members of a society, the ones who have the fewest resources and opportunities. We can offer this kind of care through acts of direct service, which are important as they allow us to provide help to others in an immediate way. Congregation Shaare Emeth is proud of our many direct service opportunities that we offer to our members.
How is Justice at the Center different?
Justice at the Center is a congregation-based community organizing effort, which is different than direct service. Through community organizing we are able to get at the systemic root of injustice, and ensure that there are systems in place to ease suffering and bring about greater equity and opportunity for people long-term. This initiative prioritizes relationship-building and begins with listening to each other’s stories. As we sit together in house meetings, we will hear about the brokenness we see in our own lives and in the lives of people in our city and state. We will take these stories seriously, as they will lead us to decide what issues we will tackle first. We will also hear stories of hope so that we might find strength in the faith we bring to one another. Sitting together, connecting with one another on a deeper level, will also enable us to feel more connected as a synagogue community. We will feel more compelled to show up for one another, and for the most vulnerable in our midst. More than 260 Reform congregations throughout North America participate in congregation-based community organizing. We are proud that Shaare Emeth will be the first congregation in St. Louis to take on this model.
Justice at the Center in Sanctuary Design
Our new bema (pulpit), situated in the center of the the Stiffman Sanctuary reflects our congregation’s value of placing justice at the center of all we do. The stone wall at the back of the bema is made of travertine cut from the side of a mountain in Italy. The blue glass on the front of the Aron HaKodesh (ark), designed by Ian Gilula, represents water–a powerful symbol in Judaism of both redemption and renewal. Taken together, the bema is a visual representation of the prophet Amos’ declaration, “Let justice roll down like water, and righteousness as a mighty stream (5:24).” It is our hope that all who enter our sanctuary will feel the call to justice and join with us as we work to create a world of justice, hope and peace.
Watch Introduction to Justice at the Center
Rabbi Goldstein introduced the Justice at the Center initiative during Yom Kippur. You can watch her sermon below.
Our Leadership and Facilitator Team
|Debra Baker||Dana DeBlasi||David Gerst||Ted Houser||Steve Masaki||Erin Seltzer||Jodi Miller|
|Holly Bernstein||Vince DeBlasi||Brett Goldstein||Marcia Jaffe||Andrea Newstead||Kevin Seltzer|
|Debbie Bram||Eve Dyson||Ron Gross||Sharon Jick||Melissa Lynn Pomerantz||Brian Sher|
|Ronnie Brockman||Ann Mayer Eisen||Amy Hammerman||Jackie Kleban||Andy Pomerantz||Cheri Winchell|
|Laurie Burstein||Harvey Ferdman||Cindy Heymann||Sara Lander||Leah Rubin||Amy Worth|
|Marianne Chervitz||Amy Gallant||Hilary Hinz||Susie Levinson||Mark Scissors||Kathy Zigler|
Co-Chairs: Stefanie Greenberg and Bill Remis
Staff: Rabbi Andrea Goldstein and Stacy Jespersen