Mandate for Tikkun Olam Commission

BACKGROUND

 
By Resolution dated April 22, 2018, The Board of Governors of Reconstructing Judaism (the Board) approved the establishment of the Tikkun Olam Commission (TOC) as a joint commission of Reconstructing Judaism and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association (RRA).
 
In addition, two co-chairs were selected to form and lead the TOC: one lay leader invited by the Board (Angela Milstein of Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades) and one rabbinic leader invited by the RRA (Rabbi Renee Bauer, RRC ’05).
 
Furthermore, the Board created and funded a half-time staffing position to focus on tikkun olam and support the work of the TOC. Rabbi Micah Weiss (RRC ’19) has filled that staff role since the spring of 2019.
 
Following efforts by the TOC co-chairs, the Board, the RRA Board, the Plenum, the faculty of RRC, and the Reconstructionist Student Association, the TOC has been populated and is presently comprised of the following members:
 
Appointed by the RRA
 
  • Rabbi Renée Bauer, co-chair (RRC ’05) and RRA Board member, Director of Chaplaincy and Outreach at Jewish Social Services, and member of Shaarei Shamayim (Wisconsin)
  • Rabbi Shawn Zevit (RRC ‘98), Mishkan Shalom (Pennsylvania)
  • Rabbi Katie Mizrahi (RRC ‘05), Or Shalom (California)
  • Rabbi David Basior (RRC ‘15), Kadima (Washington)
  • Rabbi Samantha Safran Bodner (RRC ‘12)
  • Evelyn Rubenstein JCC (Texas)
 
Selected by the Faculty of RRC
 
  • Tamar Kamionkowski, Professor of Bible at RRC (Pennsylvania)
 
Selected by the Reconstructionist Student Association
 
  • Sarah Brammer Shlay, current RRC student and rabbinic intern at SAJ (New York)
 
Appointed by the Board
 
  • Angela Milstein, co-chair, Reconstructing Judaism Board member and member at Kehillat Israel (California)
  • David Piver, Reconstructing Judaism Board member and member at Mishkan Shalom (Pennsylvania)
 
Approved by the Plenum and the Board (selected by TOC Co-Chairs from a pool of applicants from affiliated communities)
 
  • Robert Brown, member at Havurah Shalom (Oregon)
  • Heather Ciociola, member at Congregation Kehilat Shalom (New Jersey)
  • Jayme Epstein, member at Adat Shalom (Maryland)
  • Jonathan Goldman, member at Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation (Illinois)
  • Mary Ellen Gurewitz, member at Congregation T’chiyah (Michigan)
  • Marilyn Kresky-Wolff, member at Adat Shalom (Maryland)
  • Beth Lange, member at Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation (Illinois)
  • Craig Levine, member at B’Nai Keshet (New Jersey)
  • Susan Liberstein, member at Reconstructionist Synagogue of the North Shore (New York)
  • John Mason, member at Leyv Ha-Ir (Pennsylvania)
  • Michael Neil, member at Congregation Kol Emet (Pennsylvania)
  • Linda Spevack, member at Mishkan Torah (Maryland)
  • Barbara Wechsler, member at Or Shalom/Or Zarua (California)
  • Daniel Weisman, member at Or Hadash (Pennsylvania)
 
Once constituted, the first goal of the TOC was to formulate a mandate for its work so that the TOC might best meet the expressed needs of all stakeholders to advance their tikkun olam efforts, while building relationships and increasing member engagement across the movement. Toward that end, the TOC collected input from its members by means of a written survey and multiple virtual meetings. That process revealed a clear preference among its members that the TOC concentrate on racial justice, immigration justice and/or climate justice for the immediate future.
 
On January 24, 2020, the TOC was convened to discuss and vote on how many issues to take on and which specific issue(s) would be our primary focus moving forward.
 
Drawing on the work of the previous Tikkun Olam Commission (constituted after the merger of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation and disbanded in 2017 to make way for the creation of joint commission with the RRA), consideration was given to the following criteria in choosing our area(s) of concentration:
 
  1. Jewish wisdom and values are relevant, but currently are not being applied.
  2. Jewish resources are not currently over-invested.
  3. There is national and/or international relevance.
  4. There is particular relevance for Jews.
  5. The content is broad enough to warrant a multilevel strategy, including direct service, advocacy and education.
  6. Diverse organizations—including congregations, Hillels and Jewish community centers—can contribute to the effort.
  7. Little victories can be won along the way, and change is attainable in the long run.
  8. A grassroots effort can make an impact.
  9. Activism can help define and raise the profile of the movement.
  10. The problems are timely—even urgent—and have evoked popular concern.
  11. The Reconstructionist movement has a distinctive contribution to make.
  12. We can draw other faith groups into the effort, building relationships.
  13. A significant number of our affiliates have expressed interest and/or experience in work around this area of focus.
 
Following robust discussion, the TOC voted to focus its limited resources on the single issue of racial justice with the caveat that its work should include an exploration of the ways in which racist attitudes and policies amplify the negative impacts of climate and immigration injustice on communities of color.
 
In addition, the TOC also decided to focus on one or more of the following projects, as resources allow:
 
  1. The development of a network of tikkun olam leaders to foster communication and collaboration among members of the Reconstructionist movement.
  2. The creation of a database or other platform that collects project and program ideas and provides an opportunity for leaders within the movement to share best practices in tikkun olam programming.
  3. The dissemination of information about and advocacy for support of the work of individual affiliates on social justice issues of abiding interest across the movement, including, but not limited to, the anti-gun-violence advocacy spearheaded by Dor Hadash in response to the mass shooting at its congregation in October 2018.
 
Consequently, the TOC proposes the following mandate for approval of the Board, the Plenum and the RRA.
 

MANDATE

 
The Tikkun Olam Commission (TOC) is a structure of the Reconstructionist movement comprised of rabbis and lay people who work on social justice issues on behalf of the movement. The TOC is a mechanism of Reconstructing Judaism’s board of governors by virtue of its chair serving as an ex officio governor. It is the primary body vested with responsibility for formulating and vetting positions for the Reconstructionist movement, for consideration by the board of governors and the plenum, and for coordination of tikkun olam work with the RRA and other bodies.
 
As described above, the founding commissioners of the TOC have determined that its primary work will be to develop resources and programs, in partnership with all appropriate stakeholders, to support movement-wide engagement on the issue of racial justice and the impact of racist attitudes and policies on non-white populations. This work will include, but not be limited to, consideration of the resultant disproportionate impact of climate change and immigration policy on communities of color.
 
Toward that end, the TOC will work to create and support opportunities related to racial justice that will allow for constructive and meaningful participation across the movement which:
 
  1. Leads to a deeper understanding of the issues, their impact, and our moral obligation as Reconstructionist Jews to respond to injustice.
  2. Increases engagement among and collaboration between Reconstructionist clergy, affiliated communities and their members;
  3. Amplifies efforts to influence public opinion and decision-makers on these issues;
  4. Raises the public profile of the Reconstructionist movement as a voice for justice and an ally to communities of color; and
  5. Makes a positive impact on those directly affected by racism.
 
The TOC will focus its resources on this issue for at least one year. Each year the co-chairs, in consultation with the TOC commissioners, will review our progress and decide together if we are ready to move on to a different focus. When it is decided to change the focus of the commission’s work, the TOC will begin a process similar to the one described above to shift the bulk of its efforts to other social justice issues by majority vote. The TOC may again determine how many issues to address and for what period of time given the resources then available.
 
In addition to this primary focus of its work, the TOC may engage in other activities that support ongoing tikkun olam efforts across the movement.
 
The TOC should report regularly to the Board and the RRA on its activities and recommendations.
 
Finally, pursuant to the “Governance Policy Adopted by the Board of Governors April 13, 2013,” the TOC may propose positions to be taken by Reconstructing Judaism to communicate to the wider world a Reconstructionist stance on a matter. The procedure for the making and consideration of such positions is set forth beginning at page 10 of that document, the terms of which are hereby incorporated by reference.
 

COMMISSION MEMBERSHIP

 
Composition
 
The initial Tikkun Olam Commission was required to be composed of 15-22 members, including the following:
 
  1. A lay co-chair who is selected by the Board and is a member of a Reconstructing Judaism affiliated community;
  2. A rabbinic co-chair who is appointed by the RRA;
  3. No fewer than 5 additional members appointed by the RRA;
  4. No fewer than 5 additional members of Reconstructing Judaism affiliated communities approved as a slate by the Plenum;
  5. One RRC faculty member, appointed by the faculty;
  6. One current RRC student, selected by the Reconstructionist Student Association;
  7. Two Reconstructing Judaism Board members appointed by the Board of Governors.
 
Going forward, the following requirements, which supersede those set forth above, shall apply to the composition of the TOC.
 
  1. The TOC shall be led by two co-chairs as follows:
    • One lay co-chair who is selected by the Board and is a member of a Reconstructing Judaism affiliated community; and
    • One rabbinic co-chair who is appointed by the RRA.
    • The lay chair will be an ex officio voting member of the Reconstructing Judaism board of governors. The rabbinic chair will have a similar level of responsibility vis-a-vis the RRA board. The individuals should serve as a liaison between the Commission and their respective board.
  2. The composition of the TOC shall include the following:
    • No fewer than five members in good standing of the RRA;
    • At least one member of the RRC faculty;
    • At least one member of the RRC student body;
    • At least two members of the Board;
    • No fewer than five lay members of Reconstructing Judaism affiliated communities
    • In addition, the TOC co-chairs may invite no more than five additional individuals to join the commission who, in their judgement, will provide, experience, skills, expertise, or relationships that will be helpful for the TOC to best fulfill its mandate.
  3. The TOC shall be comprised of no fewer than 15 and no more than 22 members, including the TOC co-chairs.
  4. The exact composition of the TOC, subject to the requirements set forth herein, shall be determined by the TOC co-chairs based on the following:
    • The needs of the TOC with respect to the background, experience, skills and expertise of its membership;
    • The availability of qualified candidates who are willing to serve; and
    • The interests of the various stakeholder groups in having adequate representation.
 
Selection
 
Each January, the Tikkun Olam Commission co-chairs will identify which members will be rotating off the commission and seek replacements from the appropriate bodies based on the composition requirements above and the specific needs of the commission at that time. Each body should be asked to provide members approved by all necessary stakeholders prior to the September 1 onset of the new term.
 
Co-Chairs
In the event that a chair is completing their term with the commission, a replacement should be sought from either the RRA Board or the Board of Reconstructing Judaism, pursuant to their respective policies for selecting and approving Article VII commission chairs.
 
RRA Members
A request for TOC members who are members in good standing of the RRA should be directed to the Executive Director and President of the RRA, and candidates should be selected and approved pursuant to applicable RRA policies.
 
RRC Faculty
A request for a TOC member who is a member of the RRC faculty should be directed to the Vice President for Academic Affairs.
 
RRC Student
A request for a TOC member who is a current member of the RRC student body should be directed to the head of the Reconstructionist Student Association for selection and approval according to applicable RSA policies.
 
Reconstructing Judaism Board Members
A request for a TOC member who is a member of the Board of Governors of Reconstructing Judaism should be directed to the President and the Board Chair for selection and approval pursuant to applicable Board policies.
 
Reconstructing Judaism Affiliate Members
Nominations for affiliate TOC membership will be solicited from all Reconstructing Judaism affiliated communities. Candidates for appointment as TOC members may apply in their own name or be proposed by their community or others. Nominees to fill slots on the TOC reserved for members of affiliated communities will be selected by the TOC co-chairs in consultation with the Nominating and Leadership Development Committee of the Reconstructing Judaism Board, and the nominations will be subject to approval as a slate by the Plenum and the Board of Governors of Reconstructing Judaism. In selecting nominees, consideration will be given to candidates’ substantive qualifications, including areas of expertise, current and past roles, skills, and experiences, and to the extent feasible achieving appropriate representation of the range of views, interests and demographic makeup of the broader movement membership.
 
Co-Chair Appointed TOC Members
The TOC co-chairs may invite no more than five additional individuals to join the commission who, in their judgement, will provide, experience, skills, expertise, or relationships that will be helpful for the TOC to best fulfill its mandate.
 
Terms
 
Commission members, including the two co-chairs, shall serve for 3-year terms. Any member may apply for a second term to the appropriate body and the decision of whether to allow a second consecutive term will be made in the discretion of that body. No member may serve more than two consecutive terms.
 
The 3-year terms will be staggered so that approximately 1/3 of members complete a term every year. Current members will be divided into 3 cohorts, A, B, and C.
 
  • Cohort A will serve until August 31, 2021. Their replacements will serve until August 2024.
  • Cohort B will serve until August 31, 2022. Their replacements will serve until August 2025.
  • Cohort C will serve until August 31, 2023. Their replacements will serve until August 2026.
 
Division of the existing TOC into cohorts will be done by the co-chairs in such a way as to stagger terms within each category of member and with consideration for the preferences of each member.
 
In the event of the death or resignation of a member of the TOC, a determination will be made as to whether loss of that member results in a composition that does not meet the requirements set forth herein. If the resignation of a TOC member results in a TOC composition that remains in compliance with the minimum requirements, then that space may be left open until the next nominating cycle, at the discretion of the co-chairs. If the resignation of a TOC member results in a TOC composition that is NOT in compliance with the requirements set forth above, then every effort shall be made to fill the resulting vacancy as quickly as possible. In the event of the death or resignation of one of the TOC co-chairs, an interim co-chair will be appointed from within the commission by the remaining co-chairs in consultation with the Chair of the Board of Reconstructing Judaism and the President of the Board of the RRA.

The Reconstructionist Network