The genesis of a March 1 workshop on reproductive health and rights at Temple Sholom in Broomall began the way any good Jewish story should: with a covenant.
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the Washington, D.C.-based political arm and “social justice hub” of the Reform movement, holds a biennial Consultation on Conscience. The three-day leadership conference provides opportunities for advocacy, leadership development and networking, and draws big-ticket political and religious leaders. It’s also a time for agenda setting and, during the 2019 edition, some big decisions were made.
The “Brit Olam” — which means “covenant with our world” — was first presented during the 2017 Consultation. The Brit was, in essence, an organization-wide pledge to “create a world in which all people experience wholeness, justice and compassion.” Reform synagogues interested in taking part in the RAC’s political campaigns could now join a network of
like-minded institutions across the country, collaborating on RAC priorities at all levels of government.
In 2019, the Brit expanded in scope and made its goals more specific, developing five areas of focus: immigration justice, gun violence prevention, environmental justice, racial justice and reproductive health and rights.
The final area of focus was the result of a partnership between the RAC and Women of Reform Judaism, the women’s affiliate of the Reform movement. The Reform movement has long spoken out in support of reproductive health and rights; as Becky Markowitz put it, “We’ve been talking about birth control and women’s rights since, like, 1935.”
Markowitz, the immediate past president of the WRJ Atlantic District, was part of a group of Sisterhood and Social Action Committee members from Temple Sholom, Main Line Reform Temple and Beth David Reform Congregation who wanted to take part in WRJ-RAC efforts to protect reproductive rights for women across the country. Namely, they wanted to protect access to abortion, ensure affordable contraceptive coverage and prioritize comprehensive sexuality education.
After months of planning — which were exceptionally frictionless and pleasant, Markowitz said — Temple Sholom will host the workshop.
“It sends an important message about working together,” she added.
Rabbi Peter Rigler, part of the clergy at Temple Sholom, praised the event as an example of what a lay leadership-planned program could be.
“It becomes a truly shared passion and agenda,” he said, when synagogue programming isn’t necessarily delivered from the top down. “This is something that very much comes from the heart of people.” He singled out Temple Sholom Social Action Committee’s Leza Raffel for her efforts.
Markowitz will moderate a panel of local and national leaders on the issue.
The panel will include state Rep. Mary Jo Daley, who has served in Montgomery County’s 148th Legislative District since 1992, and will speak about reproductive health and rights legislation; Melissa Weiler Gerber, president and CEO of AccessMatters in Philadelphia, who will provide tips on how to get involved in local initiatives; Lulu Defersha, associate director of New Voices for Reproductive Justice, who will provide some historical context to the contemporary issues of reproductive health; and Ally Karpel, the WRJ-RAC reproductive health and rights campaign associate.
Karpel, based in Washington, D.C., said that the national WRJ-RAC partnership was forged last spring “in the wake of egregious attacks on reproductive rights that we were seeing across the states, on the federal level and in the courts, as well.” When congregations go to RAC to figure out how they can get involved in fighting for reproductive rights, Karpel connects them with the appropriate campaigns in their area, as well as other congregations that might be interested.
“Whenever Reform congregations are wanting to work on reproductive rights in a certain way, through the campaign they are able to access resources,” she said.
One of the more important takeaways, Karpel believes, is to dispel what she calls the “false binary between Judaism and reproductive rights.”
“We know that religion is often portrayed as being in opposition to or not compatible with reproductive rights,” she added, “and the Reform movement for decades has had very clear, strong policy for reproductive rights.”
Event organizers have asked that, in lieu of an admission fee, attendees donate pads and tampons, to be distributed to local charities in support of the Period Project. Light refreshments and food will be provided by the Sisterhood of Temple Sholom.
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