College kids and 20-somethings, middle aged folks and seniors, observant and secular Jews, lawyers and artists, Christian allies and Palestinian partners.  A great gathering of cogent thinkers, expert doers and passionate visionaries -- a total thrill!
-- Judy Kaye chair of Rhode Island chapter, describing J Street's first annual conference held October 25-28

Over 200 Brit Tzedek activists came to Washington DC last month to kick off the next exciting phase of the pro-Israel pro-peace movement. Just 2 days after the announcement that Brit Tzedek's organizing & advocacy work will become part of J Street's national program in January 2010, we arrived from Oregon, Texas, Indiana, New York, and many places in between. See our photo gallery.

Our work over the last 7 years clearly made a difference: one out of eight conference participants was identified on their name-tag as a Brit Tzedek "partner". And we were everywhere -- leading workshops, giving interviews, comparing notes, taking pictures, leading advocacy delegations to Capitol Hill. Former Executive Director Diane Balser was featured in the opening night video with other Jewish peace leaders and former staff member Adam Esrig found his way to stardom on YouTube.

J Street is exciting because it expresses a generational shift in both the medium and the message. It speaks to the young at heart and embraces 21st century viral communications. (David Green, Boston)

I was delighted by the willingness of participants to discuss thorny issues openly and respectfully. (DeAnne Riddle, Amherst, MA)

Educate, agitate, congratulate! Day 1 began early and was chocked full, with workshops on subjects ranging from West Bank settlements to interfaith organizing to Israel & the American Left, as well as live theater, a Town Hall meeting with Reform movement head Rabbi Eric Yoffie, and a plenary session featuring members of the 111th Congress.

And then it was party time. Scores of folks came to celebrate the accomplishments and activists of Brit Tzedek with kind words. The audience warmly applauded our national Board members, Rabbinic Cabinet leaders, Chapter chairs, Honorary Board, and staff. New York chapter co-chair Ben Murane premiered a multi-media PowerPoint slideshow of our history and unique personalities.

J Street's Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami enthusiastically welcomed us into the family and introduced the newly on-board leadership of the J Street field program: Laurie Moskowitz and Carinne Luck (Senior Advisor & Deputy Field Director, respectively).

Over and over again, I felt a deep sense of belonging and rootedness in J Street. So while we are all leaving our "home" that has been Brit Tzedek to join the J Street family, we will not be homeless.
-- Steve Masters, President, Brit Tzedek (Philadelphia)

Increasing our Grassroots power. How do we combine our grassroots and netroots work? How can we best use our activists to win on this issue? What's the best way to combine older and younger people? These were the topics tackled by Laurie Moskowitz, Carinne Luck, Diane Blaser, and Ari Wallach (Partner, StudioBenZion and cofounder of The Great Schlep) on Day 2. In discussing the next 6 months of Brit Tzedek/J Street organizing, the speakers asked us to imagine success. How? By having a clear mission, using our passionate people well, creating effective on-the-ground tactics, and using authentic messaging that allows people to connect with the message and with each other.

Our Rabbinic Cabinet outdid itself on Day 2. Their session, "Dancing on the Head of a Pin" explored how -- and whether -- rabbis can broaden the dialogue about Israel without jeopardizing their communal standing. The panelists (Rabbis David J. Cooper, Joshua Levine-Grater, Julie Saxe-Taller, Toba Spitzer and moderator Rabbi John Friedman) shared their wisdom and recommendations including:

  • Allow time for discussion after Israel-oriented sermons.
  • Acknowledge the deep-seated emotions on this issue.
  • Make clear that not "all Jews" or "most Jews" or "real Jews" or "moral Jews" think one way or the other.
  • Emphasize the sanctity of human life above nationalism, claims to land, ethnic ties and commitments.
  • Be leaders in seeing Israel as it is.

And finally came our trip to Capitol Hill. On Day 3, hundreds of people headed over to the House and Senate with the clear message that U.S. diplomatic engagement was essential to moving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict towards peace. Together, we met with over 200 Congressional offices to ask elected officials to take a more public stand on behalf of this engagement.

Brit Tzedek activists -- many of whom had previously participated in Washington or home district advocacy meetings -- often took the lead. We were leaders of delegations and vocal members. We knew our way around the basement corridors of Capitol Hill and how to find the cafeterias. Our relationships with staff members sometimes eased the way with staff members and we were able to assure first-timers that everything would be okay.

An amazing experience – the culmination of what I was working towards was finally happening. (Shirley Rausher, New York City) 

Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, The Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace
11 E. Adams Street, Suite 707
Chicago, IL 60603
Phone: (312) 341-1205
Fax: (312) 341-1206

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