Q&A with Authors Rabbi Judith Schindler and Judy Seldin-Cohen
What is civic engagement?
Civic engagement is the process of addressing an injustice, with the goal of improving our collective future. Civic engagement is non-partisan, although it may involve political processes to change local, state, or federal policies. Civic engagement may entail mobilizing consumers or other stakeholders to use their power to alter unethical or unsustainable institutional practices.
Why should American synagogues incorporate civic engagement alongside their traditional offerings?
Civic engagement connects Jews with Jewish community both inside and outside the walls of synagogue buildings, connecting the loosely affiliated more profoundly and meeting the unaffiliated in the secular world. As synagogues embrace civic engagement, Jews who are instinctively drawn to this work become confident voicing the teachings of our faith, living Jewish values as they transmit them to the next generation. Civic engagement through our synagogues empowers us to respond as Jews and as Jewish institutions to address the serious challenges facing our country today.
What if only some congregants are interested in civic engagement?
That’s fine. Just as we do not expect every congregant to participate in all three of the synagogue’s traditional pillars –Torah study, worship services, and acts of loving-kindness — we know that civic engagement appeals to only a segment of the congregation. Embracing civic engagement as a fourth leg engages many American Jews with a Judaism they find relevant, connecting them profoundly to their synagogues.
Who should read this book?
The book is intended for a diverse group of readers: clergy across the streams of Judaism, synagogue board members, lay leaders, steadfast volunteers, involved and uninvolved congregants, Jewish activists, intrigued secular Jews, and inquisitive non-Jews who see the foundational value of this work.
Where did you find the examples cited in the book?
Over the course of two years, we interviewed fifty clergy and lay leaders in eighteen American synagogues. These synagogues ranged in size from 130 to 1,300 families — located in progressive states and in conservative states, in cities ranging from one hundred thousand to a few million in population. Yet, each made a meaningful difference advocating for change as a Jewish congregation.
Is this the first collaboration for the authors?
Rabbi Judith Schindler and Judy Seldin-Cohen spent ten years collaborating on social justice initiatives prior to researching and writing Recharging Judaism.
Their first project was the award-winning documentary “Souls of Our Students: Appreciating Differences,” recently updated with the addendum “A Transgender Focus.” They spearheaded the first Jewish-sponsored site for the Children’s Defense Fund® Freedom Schools.
Their extensive work in homelessness and affordable housing includes creating an advocacy policy for Temple Beth El, a second award-winning documentary “Souls of Our Neighbors: Fears, Facts & Affordable Housing,” and the website SolveThePuzzleCharlotte.org, now hosted by the Homeless Services Network. Seldin-Cohen also serves on the advisory council for the Stan Greenspon Center for Peace and Social Justice, for which Schindler is the founding executive director.
Reflections on the book from scholars and Jewish leaders…
“Yes! Rabbi Judy Schindler and Judy Seldin-Cohen have provided exactly what we need: real, thoughtful, hands-on opportunities for Jewish communities to make concrete change in America. As we read in Deuteronomy, pursuing justice is an eternal religious obligation for the Jewish people. If there was ever a time when we were called to that obligation, it is now.”
“Recharging Judaism is a welcome addition to the growing literature on Jewish social justice. Perhaps the book’s greatest contribution are the innumerable examples provided of rabbis and lay leaders, throughout the country, who are taking on significant social policy issues through voluntarism and advocacy. In so doing, these leaders are exciting interest in Jewish life among Jews who might otherwise remain unengaged and they are fulfilling one of the core purposes of Judaism.” — Rabbi Sid Schwarz, Author, Judaism and Justice: The Jewish Passion to Repair the World; Founding Rabbi, Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation, Bethesda, MD “For those of us who sometimes struggle to articulate how to connect our commitment to social justice back to Judaism and our teaching and tradition, this book is written for us.”
“This book will make a tremendous contribution to congregations like mine that are just embarking on serious social justice work.”
About Judy Seldin-Cohen, Co-Author and Community Advocate
Judy Seldin-Cohen is a community advocate and author. For the last decade, she has collaborated with her clergy at Temple Beth El (Charlotte, NC) to expand the congregation’s social justice impact.
Prior to researching and writing Recharging Judaism, their work included establishing the first Jewish-sponsored site for the Children’s Defense Fund® Freedom Schools and creating two award-winning documentaries – “Souls of Our Students: Appreciating Differences” and “Souls of Our Neighbors: Fears, Facts & Affordable Housing.” Seldin-Cohen is also a lay leader at Temple Beth El (Charlotte, NC), where she has served on the board, led the social justice committee, and represented the temple in the community.
Outside the synagogue, she advocates for homelessness solutions and LGBT inclusion and has periodically served on non-profit boards.
Her professional life prior to moving to Charlotte includes management consulting at Booz, Allen in Chicago and vice president of ticketing at the Jacksonville Jaguars NFL team.
Seldin-Cohen earned her MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University. She earned two bachelor’s degrees from the University of Pennsylvania as a Benjamin Franklin Scholar, graduating magna cum laude.