Our current social action efforts have their roots in long-time justice actions of our temple going back nearly five decades. Our members have long been inspired by the 1964 “Freedom Summer” in Mississippi. At that time, Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple’s Senior Rabbi Arthur Lelyveld, z”l, was struck in the face with a tire iron by those trying to thwart the efforts of all those struggling to register African-Americans to vote. The photograph of his bruised and bloodied face became an iconic symbol of our temple’s long and storied history of social activism. While members of our congregation did not accompany Rabbi Lelyveld on his pilgrimage down south, many took great pride in knowing that their spiritual leader was so courageous in the face of injustice.
Forty-eight years later, Rabbi Lelyveld’s path-breaking efforts have continued to inspire our members to volunteer efforts we hoped would act on the Hebrew prophet Amos’ yearning to have “justice roll down like a mighty stream.” During those years, many battles were fought and won. Sadly, however, many issues of social inequality have yet to be addressed or resolved. Canned food drives, coat collections, and social service safety nets are meaningful, yet we concluded they at best put a band-aid on the social ills from which the most vulnerable in our society suffer, but they are not a long-term cure.
Frustrated by the ineffectiveness of our temple’s many well-intentioned social action efforts to get to the root causes of social injustice, our Rabbi Joshua Caruso searched for a way to make a more substantial difference. In 2007, he brought four Fairmount Temple congregants with him to a Just Congregations Conference, sponsored by the Union for Reform Judaism, to be trained in the principles of community organizing. Upon his return, Rabbi Caruso was driven to lead Fairmount Temple – and eventually guide dozens of clergy colleagues in greater Cleveland – to create a network that could use the tools and methodology of community organizing to make lasting and sustainable change.
What was the process? Meeting with individuals one by one, in conversations. Rabbi Caruso and Fairmount Temple leaders, together with other clergy and members of churches, mosques and synagogues across Cleveland, sought to build relationships between individuals committed to the same idea: making a difference on vexing issues in Greater Cleveland such as: education reform, health care, criminal justice, and food sustainability,
On June 6, 2011 – with Fairmount Temple as a founding institution – Greater Cleveland Congregations (GCC) convened its founding assembly. The incredible energy and excitement of 2,000 greater Clevelanders at the Masonic Auditorium was strengthened by Rabbi Caruso’s role as a founding co-chairperson of the organization, Rabbi Nosanchuk speaking at the assembly of the prophetic commitments of GCC, and hundreds of our Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple members, voicing their views and sharing testimony to the critical issues facing Cleveland.
Less than one year after its birth, GCC has made an impact on some of the most pressing issues in our community.
In December 2011 and April 2012, Greater Cleveland Congregations have publicly advocated for education reform in the Cleveland Metro School District, seeking to bring together school leaders and educators to focus on shared solutions.
In March 2012, Greater Cleveland Congregations held a forum at Fairmount Temple for a highly contested Cuyahoga County Prosector election, and mobilized thousands to support the passage of a health and human services levy. More recently the GCC hosted an assembly calling for changes to reduce gun violence and seeking a more balanced criminal justice system.
Right now, within our temple and the entire network of GCC, Jews, Christians and Muslims are studying a range of issues and opportunities for advocacy to build a more just and prosperous greater Cleveland. Once again, Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple is at the forefront of fighting for a more just society. Please join Rabbi Caruso and the exceptional clergy and lay leadership of GCC from across our region as they work to make fundamental changes in the system that perpetuates the most persistent problems in our community. Contact Rabbi Caruso at email@example.com to get involved now.
Read more about Greater Cleveland Congregations at greaterclevelandcongregations.org.