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SEA Change is a catalyst for congregational racial justice Study, Engage, Act!

June 10, 2022

In recent years, many synagogue communities have become increasingly aware of racial injustices, understanding in new ways the depth of the American caste system, their own need to act for change, and the ways racism manifests within synagogue communities. This growing awareness has led many to realize how much more they need to learn and how many more people need to be educated on these issues.

However, many are struggling to translate their learning about systemic racism into concrete action for racial justice -- either internally in the congregation, or externally in the broader community. For some this has led to frustration or withdrawal, while others simply do not hold significant enough relationships with communities or leaders of color that would enable them to take part in effective action. And too often, when synagogues want to make a real difference within their congregations, they may not yet have the culture and/or leadership in place to welcome and support this change. 

If congregants develop a deeper understanding of the ways that racism has shaped their own stories, they will be able to make intentional choices about how to use their power as individuals to change the culture of their institutions. Moreover, when these individuals are equipped with tools for translating their passion and skills into effective action through organizing, they grow to feel powerful as a collective, and more capable of working to make change shoulder-to-shoulder with organizations led by people of color. 

Our Vision: Powerful congregational action for racial justice integrated into the DNA of the congregation.

  …across lines of racial difference 

  …with robust lay leadership teams 

  …and a common social analysis. 

SEA Change - a program of JOIN for Justice: the Jewish Organizing Institute and Network - was designed to address the need for effective, transformational congregational racial justice work. SEA Change is for congregations with an appetite to make change on racial equity issues -- internal to their congregations and across their communities. It is for institutions, whose senior leadership – lay, professional, and clergy-- are ready for their congregations to take on this work. SEA Change engages teams of 10-20 individuals per congregation, ideally a mix of clergy, professional staff, lay leaders, and members – those who are both actively and less actively engaged in synagogue life currently. They join together in a larger SEA Change cohort from multiple congregations and movements who study, engage, and act together!

A multiracial group of adults, SEA Change participants, smiling and wearing name tags are standing together on steps inside a tent

The Program:

SEA Change is an intensive, 6-month, cohort-based program for Jewish congregations aimed at moving them from appetite to action. The program guides participants through three distinct phases of work. 

• Study: The program starts with 10 weeks of interactive workshops and small group discussions, crafted to educate participants about core elements of the history of racism, contemporary anti-racism practices, effective strategies of community organizing, and how to institutionalize change.

• Engage: Next is a period of work in teams, conducting community-based research and engaging in further relationship-building to determine the best options for institutional transformation and community involvement. For example, in JOIN for Justice’s last round of SEA Change, the race equity audit included looking at the Hebrew school: new member orientation processes, the dues structure, and how services and adult education programming were run.

• Act: In the final period of the program, participants gather institutional support for the newly proposed initiatives and set up the structures to support the work over the long-haul. In JOIN’s last round of SEA Change in Washington, DC, the cohorts partnered with Action in Montgomery, which is currently working on affordable housing and mental health support for teenagers, and with Jews United for Justice, where they are working on Paid Family and Medical Leave.

In each phase, participants will also build relationships and community together within the cohort.

Throughout these phases, the program provides a mix of learning sessions (mostly by Zoom, some in-person), small group discussions, and individual and group coaching. Additionally, JOIN for Justice is available for follow-on engagements after the program’s conclusion for those synagogues looking for continued engagement and/or coaching as they move forward. 

Over the course of six months, the program:

• Builds relationships among cohort participants as well as between participants, lay leaders, staff, and clergy and across synagogue communities

• Equips cohort members to understand the underpinning foundations of racial inequity in the U.S. and specifically in their local area.

• Identifies and cultivates new and current leaders to shape and own this body of work as well as lead other activities in the congregation

• Provides organizing skills-building participants can use to meet myriad future challenges and situations faced by the synagogue.

• Lays the groundwork for new and existing leaders to work side by side with communities of color to address racial inequity on issues of critical concern.

• Equips congregants, leaders, and clergy to publicly express in new ways their Jewish values and work respectfully and effectively with partner/s to do so.

For more information about SEA Change, contact JOIN For Justice.

David Schwartz is the Director of Programs at JOIN For Justice.