Becoming a Grassroots Organizer

The Power of One

How to be a Grassroots Organizer

Whenever someone wants to accomplish something in a community—any community — one of the first steps is to reach out to those around you who might have similar values or a similar concern to see if you can work together.

This same principle holds true when we want to help increase the awareness of the Jewish community, the challenges we’re facing, and the need to have support from allies.

The Importance of Grassroots Efforts

Recent research shows that friends and family are a trusted source of information on the current conflict between Israel and Hamas. One of the ways to improve understanding of the Jewish community among non-Jews is to leverage our relationships and extend ourselves to our family, friends, and colleagues.

True grassroots efforts – the act of reaching out to even one person – will provide benefits to all of us in increased support beyond the Jewish community.

We’re asking you to consider reaching out to non-Jews in your life – people you already know and like – and invite them a bit closer. Make them your plus-one to Jewish events you may be attending, such as a community Seder. Invite them to your Shabbat table or consider hosting an event to celebrate a Jewish holiday or festival.

Please only consider hosting if you are feeling calm and capable of entertaining – do not extend yourself if you feel too depleted or uncomfortable in any way.

If you’re hosting non-Jewish friends at a Shabbat dinner, be prepared to explain the blessings, the rituals, and your own household traditions. As you answer questions, keep the atmosphere warm, light and focused on relaxing into Shabbat.

If you host events, parties or intimate gatherings around Jewish festivals, such as Chanukah, Purim, Passover, or Rosh Hashanah, explain the purpose of each holiday and provide examples of special symbolic foods. Nothing bonds people like sharing a meal!

Guiding Conversations

In guiding the conversation, a good way to start is to let people know that our traditions allow and encourage a diversity of opinions.

Other phrases that might come in handy: “I’m a Jew, not a rabbi,” in answer to questions about religion. Consider using, “In my opinion…” or “I believe/understand/think…” as a start to your statements. Try to gently elicit your guests’ opinions and questions, assuring them they will be heard and respected.

In response to queries about things that may be controversial, the truism “two Jews, three opinions” is a useful one to share. Explain that Jews are not all the same and do not hold the same opinions—and that is ok. For example, Jews ourselves have debates about whether we are best defined as a race, religion, culture or tribe.

If the conversation turns to the current conflict, consider framing your answer in terms of what you know and what you believe. Example: “I know it is difficult to see the loss of life on both sides in this war…but I believe the only way to keep Israelis and Palestinians safe is for Hamas to leave Gaza.”

Ask your non-Jewish friends what they think, believe, and feel to give them the opportunity to share their experience and opinions. This also provides you with information about what they know and how you can expand their knowledge of Jews, Israel, and the antisemitism happening today in Chicago and throughout the U.S.

You don’t have to pretend to know everything or to agree with anything/everything your non-Jewish friends say. Keep the conversation civil and make sure everyone feels comfortable voicing their opinions respectfully. Example: “I am not sure that what you are saying is factually true, but I also know none of us are always right or always wrong. Do you mind if I send you some resources on the topic?”

Conclusion

Sharing more about your Jewish identity and perspective with your non-Jewish friends is a way to create a safe place for them to ask questions, and to learn more about us. It also enables them to understand more about how challenging this current time is for us— and provides them with an opportunity to become our allies as we work for peace.