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Our First Plenum Business Meeting: What Community Sounds Like!

The first business meeting of the new Reconstructionist plenum, a conference call on Sunday, October 27 2014, opened with a happy cacophony as 89 voices from all over North America recited a prayer for conducting community business (composed from traditional sources by Rabbi Jeremy Schwartz). And the discussion that followed fit that bill exactly: the call, an hour and a half moderated by Congregational Services Committee Chair Chayim Herzig-Marx, reflected great interest in how we envision ourselves as Reconstructionists and how we aim to heal the world.

Fifty-three voting representatives of congregations and havurot participated—far exceeding the 27 needed to achieve a quorum. By a vote of 46 in favor and seven abstentions (with zero ”no” votes), the plenum ratified the slate of RRC board governors who had been elected for three-year terms to end August 2016. The group also covered several brief items before launching into two lengthier, substantive discussions—on tikkun olam and on a draft vision statement for the Reconstructionist movement.

Tikkun Olam: Addressing the Wealth Gap
Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, who staffs the Tikkun Olam Commission, announced that the group would focus on one issue at a time, to achieve greatest impact. For the next two years, he said, the issue would be the “wealth gap”—the widening discrepancy between rich and poor in North America. The commission plans to develop resource materials about the wealth gap and, with the help of student intern Nathan Kamesar, will survey congregations to find out how they pursue tikkun olam and what programs they are doing currently.

A delegate from Illinois asked how the commission’s initiatives could help congregations not just raise awareness but make a real difference for poor people. Liebling recommended that our communities partner with organizations whose mission is to offer direct support to new business people, to single moms, and to other groups likely to experience economic challenges. In response to a comment from a Pennsylvania representative, he encouraged people to share information about their successful partnerships with efforts such as the Living Wage Campaign.

Drafting a New Vision Statement: What Should Be the Goals?
Early on in the call, Board Chair David Roberts had introduced Rabbi Deborah Waxman, Ph.D., the new president elect of RRC and Jewish Reconstructionist Communities. Waxman, who has long played a pivotal role in the organization’s strategic planning, led a discussion of a new draft vision statement the Strategic Planning Committee has put up for consideration. The statement should put forward a vision for the movement at large, she said, and should also help to answer the basic question, why belong to a Jewish religious movement to begin with?

The committee acknowledges that no one statement will ever speak perfectly to every Reconstructionist. Waxman raised the idea of using a “graffiti wall”—a web page where, in true Reconstructionist fashion, individuals could post their own perspectives on these big ideas. She said that the committee would use Facebook’s poll function to query the plenum about what the statement should achieve: Should it focus on inspiring movement growth? Or should the movement pull back from vision in the short term, take on marketing as a separate enterprise, then address the challenge of a larger vision later on?

A delegate from Canada commented that the statement should point to the direct benefits of belonging to the movement. Representatives from Colorado and Vermont remarked that it should clearly distinguish the Reconstructionist movement from other liberal Jewish enterprises. And a delegate from Massachusetts expressed a preference that the vision statement grow out of the process RRC and the Reconstructionist communities will soon undertake to craft a new identity.

A Strong, Strong Closing
Having “met” and “talked” to each other extensively in the plenum’s ongoing Facebook group, participants continued to demonstrate lots of enthusiasm right through the end of the call, when all were “unmuted” and proud cries of “Hazak, hazak!” rang out. A post-meeting survey shows that most voting representatives are participating on Facebook and most agree that the plenum has the potential to be a vital and exciting forum for Reconstructionist stakeholders.