Our History: Partnerships and Initiatives (2016-2020)
The Community of Action grew organically out of a two-year URJ/RAC (Union of Reform Judaism/Religious Action Center) initiative in 2016: “Pursuing Justice: Becoming a Community of Action.” The objective was to educate, act and advocate about a social issue. Our first project was A Nothing But Nets anti-Malaria fundraising, education and lobbying campaign, which was selected by the RAC. The second year, we were to select our own issue, and after gathering a large group of congregants to provide input, we decided to work toward closing the opportunity/achievement gap in Montgomery County Public Schools. This is how our congregation’s partnership with South Lake Elementary School began. Our support for education equity efforts in the county and state has continued.
Congregant Supported Programs at South Lake Elementary School
After School Art Club Do you enjoy helping kids explore art? Don’t mind getting messy with paint, clay and glue? Want to make a difference in the lives of children who otherwise would be home alone or in the care of siblings? Lend a hand at our After School Art Club for children at our adopted school, South Lake Elementary School in Montgomery Village, on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons (3:30 pm – 5:00 pm). We have the curriculum and the supplies; we’re looking for adults and students (HS & MS) to help staff the club. SSL hours are available. B’nai Mitzvah students are welcome!
Chess Club Enrichment Program A TBA family volunteered to run and support an after school chess club one day a week. The family donated all supplies including chess set, boards, and other teaching
Mommy and Me Parenting Program– This program was conceived by the Community of Action and is run entirely by Temple Beth Ami volunteers one morning a week during the school year.
Adult English Classes– Beth Ami congregants serve as assistants two mornings a week in ESL classes taught at South Lake for South Lake parents
Lunch Time Reading Volunteers – Beth Ami volunteers have come in at lunchtime to read with South Lake students under the direction of the reading specialist at South Lake
Advocacy for a New Building for South Lake Elementary School
Working with AIM (Action in Montgomery) and the South Lake community, the Community of Action was part of the multi-year lobbying effort begun in 2018 and ultimately succeeding in 2020 in winning new school construction for South Lake. We testified before the state legislature, the county council and the Board of Education and led a letter-writing campaign encouraging congregants to write to the County Council in support of a new school for South Lake.
Action in Montgomery (AIM) – https://actioninmontgomery.org
The Community of Action first worked with Action in Montgomery in support of South Lake Elementary and now actively participate in AIM initiatives. Through AIM, we have participated in interfaith county-wide meetings, representing TBA and in many cases, the Jewish community. The Community of Action publicizes AIM’s task forces on police reform, health care equity, affordable housing, and public transportation so congregants interested in getting involved with these issues can connect with AIM.
2017 Listening Sessions
In 2017, AIM conducted a Listening Session campaign across the county to see what issues residents cared most about. We committed to do listening sessions at Beth Ami and hoped we might be able to use them to select our next advocacy topic. After several months of planning, training (by AIM), and compiling materials (from URJ congregations), we conducted four listening sessions reaching more than 40 congregants in all. Although no one or two topics emerged, the sessions were beneficial. They provided opportunities for congregants to meaningfully connect. Most people enjoyed them and the feedback we received was “the temple should do more things like this.” Moreover, they confirmed what seemed apparent generally; that following the 2016 presidential election people were much more politically aware and seemed to be energized to do something, even if what to do was not always apparent.
2018 Candidates Forum
Building on the energy we sensed through the Listening Sessions and our greater awareness of the importance of county government, we decided to plan a candidate forum leading up to the June 2018 Maryland primaries. Our intent was to focus on the county council and county executive races. We reached out to other temple groups for partners. The Temple’s Critical Issues Forum was interested and thought it was important to focus on the state delegate races as well. We ran the event together. In all, we ran 5 moderated sessions with a total of 42 county executive and state delegate candidates participating. We secured 10 Jewish and interfaith co-sponsors, and pre-registered almost 400 people. The success and enthusiasm generated by the Candidates Forum, led us to pursue other civic engagement programming.
Voter Registration Drives
In 2018, we developed a non-partisan program with the Maryland Board of Elections and trained 30 volunteers to register voters. Then we tabled at Montgomery College campuses and local shopping centers and registered over 100 new voters over two weeks. In 2019, we expanded voter registration tables to Wooton High School. Our efforts were part of a partnership with When We All Vote and National Voter Registration Day.
Two November 2019 events sponsored jointly by the Literacy Council of Montgomery County and TBA’s Community of Action helped to introduce Temple members to the Council’s adult education program. November’s presentations were on the Council’s best-known program — to train ESL tutors. This program, which matches trained individuals with persons wishing to improve their English -speaking skills, is in critical need of tutors to fill the backlog of over 150 adults waiting to be matched. While TBA’s efforts garnered eight new recruits, many more are needed.
Working with the Literacy Council of Montgomery County, the Community of Action created and presented a PowerPoint presentation to 74 ESOL students on September 24, as part of National Voter Registration Day. The presentation covered basic facts of national, state and local government, as well as how to get involved in PTAs; voter registration; and the importance of participating in the upcoming Census in 2020. Presentations were held at both the Gaithersburg and Germantown libraries. Together the 74 students attending represented a total of 31 countries, all of whom are seeking to learn English and most to eventually to become U.S. citizens. It covered local government, the school board and getting involved in PTA’s.
Voting Rights Advocacy
In 2020, the Community of Action participated through the RAC in the Center for Common Grounds postcard writing campaign to combat voter suppression. More than 50 Beth Ami households participated. In 2021, we participated in the RAC’s Freedom to Vote campaign, lobbying U.S. Senators for passage of voting rights legislation. Our congregation had 25 people on the lobby Zoom with our U.S. Senators and was one of the lead congregations on the call.
Maryland Blueprint for Education – Strong Schools Maryland
Working alongside Strong Schools Maryland and county groups including MoCo Women and AIM, the Community of Action was a partner in the Coalition for the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, which advocated to enact the recommendations of the Kirwan Commission into law. Temple members will remember that this bill was the culmination of years of work by experts to craft a world-class education system for the state of Maryland and has 5 main pillars: early childhood education; elevating the licensure standards for teaching and providing commensurate compensation; investing in those children who need more assistance; ensuring our students are college and career ready; and establishing accountability and oversight. By overriding Governor Hogan’s veto (2020) the Budget now fully funds the Blueprint and school construction. “The General Assembly also has now secured over $7 billion for school construction, education programs, additional resources, and more support for teachers and students.”