New Year, New Session, New Conversations

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Following our community’s big wins on Election Day 2012, we at Jewish Community Action threw ourselves into planning Speaking of Faith After the Election, an opportunity for members, supporters, clergy, legislators, and our Prophetic Voices co-sponsors (ISAIAH, His Works United, and the Center for Public Ministry) to reflect on the campaign, discuss our shared values and hopes, and prepare for the work ahead. But the event, which was originally scheduled for December 9, had to be canceled at the last minute due to the first major snowfall of the season. JCA and our co-sponsors had to decide: reschedule, or let the event go?

We at JCA knew that our community needed this type of forum, and we were confident that our supporters and elected officials would come out for such an event, regardless of the time and date. And so, Speaking of Faith Before the Session was born, and this past Sunday, January 6, our community once again surpassed our wildest expectations.

Well over 200 community members--including religious leaders from multiple faiths and 21 state legislators--packed the house at Mount Zion Temple in St. Paul to have intimate, values-based conversations about social and economic justice in our state. “We are people of faith, committed to civil and thoughtful discourse, calling for a state-wide conversation of our values,” Rabbi Adam Spilker of Mount Zion Temple said in his opening remarks. “We are unwavering in a call for justice.”

The program featured messages from religious leaders like Rabbi Spilker and Reverend Paul Slack of ISAIAH, as well as reflections from House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, Senate Finance Chair Richard Cohen, and Senate Assistant Minority Leader Roger Chamberlain. But most importantly, the event allowed JCA members and allies to simply talk, and to be heard by the legislators and clergy that guide our state. Through intimate conversations at over 20 packed tables, each of which had a legislator and trained facilitator, community members shared their personal stories and values on everything from foreclosure prevention to financial reform, health care to education, marriage equality to hunger.

Today, just two days after these conversations, the 21 legislators who joined JCA for Speaking of Faith are at the state capitol, kicking off our state’s eighty-eighth legislative session. We trust that these legislators, and the others with whom they work, will carry forward the ideas and values of JCA and the larger community of faith of Minnesota. We trust that they will use Sunday’s conversations to help them legislate responsibly and fairly. And, finally, we trust that our work at JCA will be guided by Sunday’s gathering, which allowed us and our members to rededicate ourselves to the Jewish values that drive our campaigns for a better, more just Minnesota.

Back in December, we considered canceling this event altogether, worried that it might lose its poignancy and timeliness if postponed for too long. But we see now that the event's move to January 6 was extremely fortuitous. Not only did we sit down with legislators just days before the legislative session, but we also reminded ourselves that there is never a bad time to have values-based conversations with our neighbors. In fact, it’s precisely these kinds of conversations that helped us win in 2012, and that make us so eager to continue important work with our members and allies in 2013.

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