Jewish Community Building as Resistance

By Adam Beardsley

Upon moving to Washington, D.C., I made an effort to find a Jewish community to be a part of. I was able to find one pretty quickly. I joined a group called If Not Now, which focuses mostly on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and creating a discussion within the American Jewish community that will hopefully change the American Jewish attitude towards Israel.

While If Not Now has done some great stuff to help start this conversation, I think one of the most important things If Not Now has done is give a few thousand (mostly young) Jews across the country a liberal Jewish community where they can talk about politics. We have joined each other for weekly Shabbat dinners where we have discussed everything from job searches to politics to comparing our own Jewish traditions.

During these dinners, we have built a community: a community that has already proven willing and able to fight for what is right; a community that welcomes Jews regardless of gender, race, sexuality, or how religious one is; a community that just by existing — by being a stable, accepting community in a time of such hatred and confusion — is resisting in a wonderful way.

This type of community is not unique to If Not Now. I have felt it at the Jewish Children’s Folkshul in Philadelphia, and I have felt it at CSJO. I hope you all have found this type of community, whether it is at your shul, with a group of friends, or just for a few hours around a Seder table this past week.

I look forward to seeing, and resisting with, all of you at the 2017 CSJO Conference in June.

A Sad Repeat of History

By Joan Kurtz

Winter is my most favorite time of year. I love the crunch of frost under my boots and the quiet of the woods when it starts to snow. December is the beginning of winter and, of course, the holiday season. Sadly, this is not a happy time for me.

This Hanukah will be the first time in the past 30-plus years when I will not put my electric menorah onto my window sill. In my town here in western Massachusetts, we have recently seen racist graffiti on boulders on our local mountaintop. There have also been reports of swastikas and racist slurs found on school buildings.

So … do I really want to show people in this town that I am Jewish? Should I just light my candles behind shuttered windows or should I proclaim it to the community with a menorah on display in the window?

My husband and I have decided to err on the side of caution for at least this year. We are hoping that this will all change over the next few months and we can return to what was our normal way of living.

But with reports throughout the U.S. of an increase in racist, religious and xenophobic displays of hate and intolerance, one can only hope ...


A CSJO Road Trip

By Jordi Shuster, Sarah Waslow-Washington, Adam Beardsley, and Madi Burns

The minivan pulled up… and the journey began.

The 2016 CSJO board meeting took place in Michigan, so the Pennsylvania youth contingency decide to take a little road trip. We laughed, we cried, we napped, we snacked, we listened to throwback jams. Three of us – Adam Beardsley, Jordi Shuster, and Sarah Waslow-Washington (our fearless driver) – left just after 6am on Friday morning, and we picked up Madi Burns once we reached Pittsburgh.

We spent the drive doing two things: planning for the upcoming board meeting and reconnecting with old friends. The former involved creating a game plan for what we wanted to achieve at this year’s board meeting, discussing what we as the youth might bring to the discussion. As for the latter…

We decided that Rifke Feinstein will officiate all of our weddings, except Adam, who decided he wants Rob Kurtz to officiate (with Rob’s cat Sammy wearing a tux as the ring bearer, of course). We talked about our shared backgrounds, each having been raised in interfaith homes with Jewish mothers and non-Jewish fathers. Although we each have unique stories, many of our similarities are what allow us to feel so connected and welcome with each other and with CSJO as a whole.

One productive board meeting, one dinner featuring flaming cheese, one outing to see Trolls, and one encouraging event with the board of the Society of Humanistic Jews (SHJ) later, we got back in the car to debrief about the weekend and the positive changes we hope to implement internationally while we drove home. We interviewed each other about what development we’re most optimistic about:

Sarah is excited to start sending our young adult board members and other invested youth to visit the youth of CSJO’s various affiliates, in order to make excitement and spread excitement about the conferences and CSJO as an organization.

Adam, as our new content manager, is looking forward to the development of our revitalized social media presence, from the CSJO website and Facebook page to an Instagram account that can be used to promote CSJO and secular Jewishness in a creative way that we’ve never successfully explored before.

Jordi is incredibly eager to begin the restoration of the CSJO Social Action Committee, which will use CSJO’s presence as a platform to call for social change, including stressing the importance of certain issues and their relation to the Jewish experience, as well as organizing service projects for and with affiliates so that we can give back as an organization.

Madi is excited to begin regularly incorporating a community service component into CSJO conferences, beginning in 2018, in order to tie the strong belief that secular Jews have of tikkun olam (repairing the world) into our annual meeting.

And most of all, we’re all excited for the 2017 CSJO conference in Chicago from June 9 to June 11 – we hope to see you all there!