Chairman's Perspective: Pursuing Justice

Photograph by
Marshall H. Cohen.

A central tenet of Reform Judaism is our commitment to social justice. One of the ways the URJ helps congregations and individuals fulfill that commitment is through our Just Congregations program.

Founded six years ago by Rabbi Jonah Pesner, Just Congregations engages congregations in identifying areas of injustice and then bringing the collective power of the congregation and its members together with a broad-based coalition to transform their communities. Now co-led with great energy and savvy by Lila Foldes and Rabbi Stephanie Kolin, Just Congregations partners with more than 150 congregations engaged in a myriad of civic action projects in 26 states. We help synagogues set goals; train interested members in community organizing techniques, including the critical task of building relationships to mobilize collective power; and then work closely with congregations as they move forward with specific actions. Instead of just saying, “What can we do to help?” congregations learn to ask, “Who has the power to change the situation?” and then develop a plan to build local relationships within and outside the congregation to effectuate such change.

Temple Sinai in Washington, DC exemplifies how Just Congregations works. A year ago, after deciding to revitalize its longstanding commitment to social action, the congregational leadership chose not to follow the usual trajectory of first determining what projects it wanted to undertake and then finding people to take them on. Instead, it started from the “bottom up,” adopting the Just Congregations approach: Temple members joined together for intensive discussions to ascertain what issues were most important to them—in their case, education, jobs, housing, disability rights, and marriage equality. As a result, Temple Sinai now has a cadre of members—many of whom were not previously engaged in temple life—actively pursuing these issues in partnership with more than 50 churches, mosques, and other area organizations.

Just Congregations is not a substitute for other social action endeavors. Nor does it work for every synagogue—there are limiting factors based on geography, available local partners, and a congregation’s interests. But I encourage you to explore the rich resources we offer, and consider investigating the role community organizing might play in advancing your temple’s commitment to social action. To learn more, visit the URJ's Just Congregations website or email

Stephen M. Sacks, Chairman
Union for Reform Judaism Board of Trustees

Union for Reform Judaism.