Community Organizing

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Congregation-Based Community Organizing

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Action Items You Can Take in Response to Recent Protests

This letter was sent to the congregation on Thursday, June 4, 2020

As Rabbi Buchdahl so beautifully said, “The work of fighting racism cannot be left only to the Black community, just as we know that antisemitism cannot be fought only by Jews. As we look at these recent turbulent days, we have to separate the violence and looting from the call for change echoing across the country. We must hear the groundswell of voices and listen to the pain and protest emanating from every corner of our beloved nation.” Our Central community is committed to fighting racism in America and helping to make our city, state, and country more just and equitable for every person. We are stronger when we learn and work together. Below, please find just a few ways we can take action, advocate, and learn together… Read More

In Case You Missed It

A Look Back at Spotlight NYC Segments:

Back in April, Central launched a new series called Spotlight NYC. This program showcases the incredible and transformative work of people around New York City. To view past interviews, please click below:

  • Kerry Brodie of Emma’s Torch, on the development of the organization, stories about her students, and the ways in which the pandemic has impacted her work. (Watch here)
  • Pastor Jose Humphreys of Exodus Transitional Community, on how the organization helps men and women rebuild their lives following incarceration. (Watch here)
  • Sean Pica of Hudson Link, on the work of his organization, which provides college classes for people who are incarcerated in New York State. We will also hear about how we can show support to Hudson Link students through a letter-writing campaign. (Watch here)
  • Rev. Vivian D. Nixon of the College and Community Fellowship, on the organization’s dedication to helping women with criminal justice histories earn their college degrees. (Watch here)

  • April 2020

    Central in Action: Here’s What We’ve Been Up To

    We hope you are safe and healthy. The past few weeks have been overwhelming for all of us. In this time of anxiety and uncertainty, many of us have found great comfort in our virtual Central community – from Rabbi Buchdahl’s morning meditations to the afternoon “Coffee with Clergy” sessions to our livestream Shabbat services to calls and texts and emails among congregants.

    We write to you now to share the continuing work of Central in Action and to let you know that our efforts are more important than ever in the face of this unprecedented crisis. Click here to read about updates some updates on our social justice initiatives and opportunities for you to engage in some of our work.

    March 2020

    Continuing the Work in Criminal Justice Reform During the COVID-19 Pandemic

    Central sees our work in criminal justice reform as part of our commitment to ending the tools of systemic racism in our country.  We have continued to engage in advocacy work on this issue during the pandemic. In March, Central Synagogue asked the Governor to release those incarcerated under technical parole violations, or near the end of their sentences, given the high rates of infection during the pandemic. Click here to read the full statement.

    March 2020

    Central and Other NY Faith Leaders Turn on the TAP

    Central Synagogue has added its name to a growing list of NY faith leaders who want to Turn on the TAP. Central is part of a coalition to restore the public Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) to men and women who are incarcerated in New York State. The Turn on the TAP campaign supports a bill that would grant thousands of men and women access to higher education. College-in-prison programs have proven to ease returning citizens’ reentry into society and increase safety within prisons. Click here to read the letter that will be delivered in person to legislators ion Turn on the TAP Advocacy Day in Albany on March 17.

    February 2020

    Central Launches Newest Advocacy Campaign: Turn on the TAP

    On Thursday, February 13, 2020, Central Synagogue launched its newest advocacy campaign: the reinstatement of the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) for men and women who are incarcerated in New York State. This bill would grant thousands of men and woman access to higher education, a measure which has proven to reduce recidivism rates and increase safety within prisons. With over 100 members in attendance, the evening was hosted by Rabbis Hilly Haber, Nicole Auerbach, and Angela Buchdahl, and the Central in Action leadership team. Special guests included Cyrus Vance Jr., Manhattan District Attorney, Sean Pica, Executive Director of Hudson Link for Higher Education in Prison, and Ivelisse Gilestra, Community Organizer at the College & Community Fellowship.

    How can you help? Take a look below for useful resources related to the TAP campaign and next steps:

  • Show your support by writing a postcard to our state legislative leaders. Our next postcarding gathering will take place at Central Synagogue on Friday, February 25 and 27, from 5:00-6:00 pm in the Lindenbaum Pavilion and Lese Lobby, before Shabbat services.

  • Join us for Lobby Day in Albany on Tuesday, March 17 to stand in favor of meaningful criminal justice reform. No political experience necessary. Sign up here.
  • Watch the video of our launch event.
  • Add your name to our mailing list to receive updates on this campaign and our social action work.

  • May 2019

    Take Action on Immigration Reform – Write a Postcard In Support of the Green Light NY Campaign

    Join us as we heed the call to support the “stranger” and help save lives. The Central in Action Leadership Team, in conjunction with the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, has recently become part of Driver’s Licenses for All/Green Light NY Campaign. This work champions NY State legislation that would provide undocumented New Yorkers with access to driver’s licenses – a privilege that was allowable by New York law until restrictive regulation following 9/11. Passage of this new legislation would ease a great deal of suffering in NY’s immigrant community and make roads safer by significantly decreasing the number of uninsured drivers.

    Just a few of the the reasons this bill would benefit all New Yorkers:

    • Currently, approximately 750,000 undocumented New Yorkers are unable to get a driver’s license although they’re of legal age to drive.
    • Many of the affected people live where there is limited or no public transportation. With no other legal option, they are forced to drive unlicensed and uninsured when they need to to drive to work, bring their kids to school, or take a family member for medical care.
    • Access to driver’s licenses would reduce the number of uninsured and untrained drivers on the road. We would all be safer. Prominent law enforcement leaders across the state support this law for safety reasons.
    • According to the Fiscal Policy Institute, expanding access to driver’s licenses would result in $57 million in additional revenue annually and $26 million in one time fees.
    • Learn more about the campaign and join us in writing postcards to NYS legislative leaders and to our governor at Central Synagogue before Shabbat Services on Friday, May 31, from 5:00-6:00 pm in the Lindenbaum Pavilion Lobby.

      If you prefer to write a postcard on your own, you can find addresses and suggested wording here.

      Read this Op-Ed on Crain’s New York Business for some more insight on this important matter.

      April 2019

      Criminal Justice Reform Passes in NY State

      We are thrilled to share that the NY State Governor, Senate, and Assembly have enacted historical criminal justice reform in our next State budget. Central Synagogue was proud to be part of a group of NY’s largest faith communities that worked to bring the first meaningful reform to criminal justice legislation in 50 years. Click here to read our interfaith statement about the reform.

      Click here to read an op-ed written by our very own Rabbi Stephanie Kolin and Rev. Winnie Varghese, the Senior Priest for Justice and Reconciliation at Trinity Church Wall Street, explaining the importance and urgency of this meaningful work.

      March 2019

      Kicking Off Our Green Light NY Campaign with RAC-NY in Albany on April 8, 2019

      Register now for Lobby Day on April 8, 2019:

      Click here to register

      In response to our congregation’s articulated commitment to immigration and refugee issues, we are pleased to share with you the launch of a new Central Synagogue campaign, in partnership with RAC-NY (New York Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism), to address a pressing issue for our state’s immigrant community.

      “Green Light NY: Driving Together,” will focus on ensuring equal access to driver’s licenses for all residents of New York State, regardless of their immigration status. Without driver’s licenses, immigrants are not able to formally verify their identities and legal ability to drive. Not carrying this form of documentation puts immigrants at odds with law enforcement who ask them to produce ID, causing them to end up in unwarranted deportation proceedings; risk being charged exorbitant fees for driving without a license to and from work; and are unable to receive health insurance benefits.

      Join us on Monday, April 8, as we bring this issue to our elected officials in Albany.  We will deliver the message that our Jewish values call us to care for and protect the immigrant as our neighbor. We know that regardless of a person’s immigration status, New Yorkers need to get to work, take their children to school, travel to appointments, and take families to a hospital or doctor when they are sick without fear of being caught up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

      This reform will also:

      • Increase revenues to state and county governments. New York State and County governments will receive an annual $57 million in annual revenue, and $26 million in one-time revenue through taxes and fees if limited purpose driver’s licenses were available.
      • Increase public safety. Licensing drivers improves public safety by ensuring that everyone driving on our roads is properly licensed, informed of our traffic laws, and is operating a registered, inspected and insured vehicle.
      • Treating immigrants as a threat is unnecessary, cruel, and does not make us safer. Our policies should instead treat all people with dignity and respect.

        If you are available to join us in Albany on Monday, April 8, please reserve your spot here.

        For other ways to get involved with Green Light NY, please read our “Calls to Action” section, located further down on this webpage. We’d love to hear from you and work together for this great cause.


        The mission of Green Light NY: Driving Together is to ensure equal access to driver’s licenses for all residents of New York State, regardless of immigration status. The goal is to pass the Driver’s License Access and Privacy Act.

        History and Context

        The Green Light Campaign seeks to reverse the law that bars an estimated 800,000 undocumented immigrants in New York State from being able to obtain driver’s license. This law was passed only in 2002. Before then, undocumented immigrants in New York State were able to obtain driver’s licenses. There are now 12 states nationwide that already offer licenses to undocumented immigrants. New York is falling behind as a national leader on immigrant rights.


        After fleeing abuse in Mexico, Dolores settled in Wayne County, NY with her young daughter more than 13 years ago. Dolores is a single mom and valued worker on an apple farm; a community leader of farm worker women; worker rights advocate; and active board member for two organizations. In 2014, Dolores was on her way to work when she was stopped for a minor traffic violation. Since Dolores was not legally permitted to have a driver’s license to verify her identity, the State Police officer who detained Dolores turned her over to immigration authorities and she is now subjected to deportation proceedings. While every New Yorker is subject to the law, the punishment for a traffic violation should not be deportation and losing one’s family.

        Call to Actions

        1. Join Central with RAC-NY in Albany – Monday, April 8, 2019: Meet with elected officials and/or their staffs to discuss the need for equal access to driver’s licenses to help immigrant families support themselves. To reserve your spot, please register here. More information to come soon.

        2. CALL: In the spirit of Purim, raise your voice, and reach out to your Legislators.

        Find your Senator
        Find your Assembly Member
        Call Governor Andrew Cuomo at 518-474-8390

        February 2019

        Make Three Phone Calls to your Elected Officials to Ensure Robust and Meaningful Bail Reform is Passed in this Legislative Cycle

        On Wednesday, February 27, Central congregants were in Albany as part of a Faith Communities for Bail Reform Advocacy Day. We met with 16 legislators, including Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins and Speaker of the Assembly Carl Heastie, and their staffs, to impress upon them the urgency of this moment and the opportunity to pass meaningful and just bail reform now.

        If you were not able to get to our State Capitol yesterday, you can still be a big part of making a difference! Will you raise your voice today by making three phone calls to your elected officials?

        Let them know that your Jewish community were in their halls and that you want to see meaningful bail reform pass in this legislative session, which adheres to the following principles:

        • Eliminate cash bail
        • Dramatically and safely reduce the number of people in jail
        • Guarantee pre-trial liberty for as many people as possible
        • And ensure robust due process for those who are eligible for pre-trial detention
        • Find your Senator
          Find your Assembly Member
          Call Governor Andrew Cuomo at 518-474-8390

          October 2018

          Raise your Voice with a Public Comment: We Believe Children Belong Free from Detention

          As you may know, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has proposed a regulation that would terminate the Flores Settlement Agreement, which currently sets the national standards for the detention, release, and treatment of both accompanied and unaccompanied immigrant children. The new proposed regulation would allow children to be detained indefinitely and reverse existing protections for children in DHS custody, including allowing children to be housed in unlicensed facilities. The short-term and long-term impact these actions will have on the lives of children and their families are deeply concerning.  As a people who have been taught that we should not oppress the stranger for we were strangers in the land of Egypt, together, we are urging the federal administration to treat migrant families with the humanity and compassion they deserve.

          We encourage you to join Central Synagogue and others in voicing your opposition to the proposed rule before the November 6th deadline. The "public comment period" is currently open. You can submit your comment by clicking here.

          Feel free to adapt any of these statements or to write from your heart. The volume and nature of statements will be taken into account as this policy is considered:

          • Immigrant families belong together and not in jail – and this regulation undermines that principle.
          • Keeping children in detention causes lasting trauma – the costs to children, families, and our communities is incalculable. The American Association of Pediatrics has stated that no child should be held in a detention center or separated from their parents.
          • The proposed regulation is inconsistent with the Flores settlement agreement, which compels the government to hold immigrant children in the least restrictive setting possible and decide their cases quickly.
          • There is no humane family detention. The facilities that have been used to detain families have been rife with psychological and physical abuse. There is a reason there is no licensing scheme for family detention centers at the state and local levels: There should be no such thing as family detention centers. Families and children should not be in cages.
          • Indefinite detention of immigrant families is expensive, impractical, violates human rights, fosters abuse and mistreatment, and is unnecessary. There are proven alternatives to detention that would not inflict severe trauma on children and families. The proposed regulation will do nothing to change the desperate situations asylum seekers are fleeing in their home countries and instead punish them for seeking haven here.
          • Protecting basic human rights is fundamental to who we are as a country. Treating immigrants as a threat is unnecessary, cruel, and does nothing to make us safer. Our policies should instead treat all people with dignity and respect.

          March 2018

          Bail Reform Campaign

          What can I do?

          • Make phone calls – each one should take just a couple of minutes! If you can’t make them all, start at the top of the list for the most urgent.
          • If you have a residence or connections in another district, please reach out to the Senator and Assembly Member there, too.
          • Forward this information to any other New Yorker who you think would be interested and ask them to join us in calling.
          Phone Call Script


          My name is __________.  I’m calling as a member of Central Synagogue in Manhattan and as a New Yorker [or as a constituent, if that’s the case] to urge [NAME OF ELECTED OFFICIAL] to strongly support robust and just bail reform in this year’s budget.

          I am asking that any bail reform:

          • Eliminate cash bail for all misdemeanors and non-violent felonies;
          • Bar pre-trial detention for all misdemeanors and non-violent felonies.

          We need true bail reform to move New York towards a more fair and equitable criminal justice system.

          Thank you. (NOTE: You can ask them to take your name and address, as well)

          Contact Information, in order of priority, as many as you have time for:

          Find your local Assembly Member and Senator:

          Governor Andrew Cuomo

          Assembly Member Carl Heastie
          Assembly Speaker

          Senator John Flanagan
          State Senate President and Majority Leader

          Senator Jeff Klein
          Independent Democratic Conference Leader

          Assembly Member Latrice Walker
          Appointed by Speaker Heastie as lead Assembly advocate for bail reform

          Senator Andrew Lanza
          Chairman of the Senate Codes Committee

          Sign up to participate in campaign actions »
          Watch the video of our launch event »
          Add your name to our mailing list to receive updates on this campaign and our social action work.


          What is Congregation-Based Community Organizing?

          Congregation-Based Community Organizing is a model of social justice work that prioritizes relationship-building and allows us to address injustices at the root cause of problems. The process begins with listening to each other’s stories. We will sit face-to-face or in small groups and learn what issues are most deeply and widely felt by those in our congregation. What challenges do we, our families, or our neighbors face and what motivates us to want to do something to address those challenges? Where do we see suffering in our own lives and the lives of others throughout NYC and New York State? We take each other’s stories seriously as they help us determine what issue we will tackle first.

          Some models of social justice initiatives address immediate and urgent needs. This important work is often referred to as “direct service.” Central participates in very meaningful direct service opportunities such as our breakfast program, English in Action and more. Community organizing, however, address the root causes of problems to address suffering at a systemic level.

          More than 260 Reform congregations throughout North American participate in Congregation-Based Community Organizing. In fact, Central Synagogue was one of the first synagogues to use this model as a way of making meaningful change in the world and living our Jewish values in the public square when members of the congregation organized to get a new public school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan to address overcrowding in local public schools.

          It is not simple to make systemic changes to address suffering and requires partnerships with other like-minded groups. In the months and years ahead, we will learn from and work with people across lines of race, socio-economic groups, and faith. This will help increase our understanding of how people in our city are struggling and how we might have a bigger impact. We will also build meaningful relationships with other individuals and organization that share our values.

          Through Central in Action, we will find many ways to show up for one another, show up for the most vulnerable, and show up for New York City. Imagine what it might mean for us to stand together with others who share our values and our concerns and be part of creating a more just and compassionate New York City.

          Why justice? Why organizing?

          As Jews, we are called to partner with God in repairing the world. We do that in very personal ways, such as offering a hand to someone in need. And we do it in more systemic ways, such as taking action to protect the most vulnerable members of society. Our sacred texts call on us to care for the stranger, the widow, the orphan – categories of people who have fewer opportunities. Today, we see that the categories of the most vulnerable may include ourselves and our families, our neighbors, fellow people of faith, people we care about, and beyond. Central Synagogue is blessed and, we believe, uniquely positioned to have a significant impact on issues of injustice and suffering.

          Community organizing allows us not just to address the immediate and urgent problem, but also to make sure that there are systems in place to ease suffering and bring about greater equality and opportunity for all people long-term. Finally, elected officials count on the people to let them know what issues and solutions are important to them. If our tradition guides us toward healing suffering, then engaging in this work is part of our legacy.

          Beyond the opportunity to repair our world, community organizing also helps bring us closer together as a congregation. As we come to listen to one another’s stories, we come to really know each other, care for one another, and find ways to help each other. We put people and relationships first at Central and community organizing is a model that helps us do that even more. As a sacred community, we believe that who we are to one another really matters. And being able to help each other, connect with each other, and experience joy and learning with each other, even as we bring about a world of greater compassion, justice, and peace, is a primary value for our congregation.

          Who is leading this initiative?

          There is a “Leadership Team” comprised of dedicated Central members and staff who have participated in multiple trainings together over many months to learn the tools of organizing. They have committed to guiding this experience for the Central community. That said, there will be many opportunities for members to get involved and become leaders.

          How will we know what issue or issues we will take on first? And then next?

          As we meet with one another face to face and in small groups, we will gather the stories, lived experiences, and interests of our community – the things that break our hearts, the suffering that we want to address. Because this is a model of justice work that is about many people acting together, it wouldn’t be enough for a lot of people to say they want the Leadership Team or Central to take action on a certain issue. Rather, we want to find an issue that our community cares so much about that you want to get involved and participate. It takes a lot of people to make significant change in our world, so the issue we pick is something we want to work on together.

          We don’t ever expect to find the magic issue that is everyone’s first choice, but instead look for something that inspires, agitates, and motivates us to take action as a community. At the same time, we look for an issue for which, if we were to get involved, we could have a real impact – something that is potentially “winnable.” The Leadership Team will discern the sweet spot between those two important qualities. If your first choice isn’t our first campaign, perhaps we will take it on next, or at some point on our path. And in the meantime, there is so much to be done, perhaps you will be inspired to get involved on an issue that is newer to you!

          What have other congregations done?

          Reform Congregations around the country have used the tools of community organizing to make many meaningful changes in their towns, cities, and states. Temple Israel in Boston passed the most comprehensive piece of anti-bullying legislation in the state. In California, Reform congregations worked in coalition to win billions of dollars for affordable housing. In Dallas, TX, Congregation Emanu-El won ongoing dedicated state funding for a new durable medical goods exchange warehouse. In Massachusetts, congregations won near universal healthcare. In Cleveland, Fairmount Temple created deeper relationships between police and local communities that led to policy changes and mutual accountability between law enforcement and civilians. In Los Angeles, Leo Baeck Temple is on the verge of winning a new rapid transit line on the 405 expressway. And our very own Central Synagogue built a new public school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan to address overcrowding. This work was accomplished in partnership with churches, mosques, and other synagogues, people of faith who share our values and our concerns.

          Why not just let the experts work on these issues?

          Very often, the experts do not have “the base” to do what needs to be done. Organizations who focus on certain areas are more and more looking to the faith community to help build enough power to have an impact on the issues that matter to both the experts and the faith communities. Also, when we care enough about an issue, we go out and talk to all the experts we can find, learn from the best, and become experts ourselves – more than we might have expected. It’s not uncommon for the faith community to show up with greater expertise on an issue than the elected officials and so are able to teach them the facts as well as share stories that move them.

          Is this a partisan effort? Should Central really be involved in politics?

          Congregation-based community organizing is non-partisan work. We do not align with any political party or work for any candidate. We work to find smart answers to difficult questions. We sometimes work in partnership with public officials and sometimes we gather together to ask public officials to take actions that will help us reach our goals. We work on every side of the aisle and on no side, creating solutions that work for the people we seek to help.

          Community organizing is, however, “political,” in the original sense of the word. In Greek society, the people used to gather at the center of the city, called the “polis,” to determine by what rules they would live their lives together. We engage in the tools of politics because that is how measureable and real change is made at a systemic level. By bringing the faith voice to the table on issues that reflect our values and affect our families and neighbors, we ensure a more just and compassionate city. (To learn about what the Religion Action Center of Reform Judaism has to say about participating in politics as a congregation, click here.)

          Is this open to non-members?

          Our intention is that this will serve to deepen connections between our members, and with the broader congregation. Therefore, in order to participate, you must be: (a) a member of Central Synagogue; (b) a child of a member; or (c) a participant in Central Synagogue’s 20’s and 30’s programming.


    With special thanks to our Leadership Team...

    Katherine Adler, Priscilla Bijur, Sue Dorn, Jonathan Gertman, Nancy Gillman, Amy Glickman, Billie Gold, Mari Hinojosa, Sherry King, Cheryl Lexton, Michelle Mandelstein, Jocelyn Markowitz, Freeman Shore, Emily Steinman, Peggy Tanner, Whitney Tilson, and David Weinstein