Rabbi David Adelson Reflects on the Launch of the RAC's Nitzavim Initiative in North Carolina

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Rabbi David Adelson, D.Min., Dean of the New York campus of HUC-JIR, attended the launch of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism's (RAC) Nitzavim Initiative in Raleigh, NC. He writes:

Rabbi David Adelson and Reverend William Barber

I’ve just left the pulpit rabbinate to become the dean of HUC-JIR’s New York campus and am transferring the commitment to social justice I’ve pursued as a synagogue rabbi to my new role. I have been part of a process with other rabbis and the RAC to create a new racial justice campaign for the Reform movement. The result is Nitzavim: Standing Up for Voter Protection and Participation, a nonpartisan Reform Movement effort in partnership with the NAACP, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights under Law, and PICO.

I just traveled to Raleigh, NC, for the August 18 launch of Nitzavim at a rousing rally at Temple Beth Or in Raleigh featuring the electrifying North Carolina NAACP president, Reverend William Barber. We, rabbis and Reform lay leaders, then spent the next two days joining local NAACP leaders registering over 300 people to vote. I was delighted to share the experience with Rena Singer, a third-year rabbinical student, who had traveled with a delegation from Westchester Reform Temple.

Rabbi Adelson registering voters in Raleigh, NC

The removal of protections of the Voting Right Act has led many states to place severe restrictions on access to voting. An overwhelming number of those disenfranchised are members of minority groups. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals wrote, in striking down provisions to North Carolina’s voter-suppressing law, that those provisions "target African Americans with almost surgical precision."

Last summer, I joined over 200 rabbis in the NAACP’s Journey for Justice, in which rabbis carried a Torah scroll every day of that sweaty march from Selma to Washington, D.C. This year, Nitzavim marks a new departure in turning out not only Reform leaders but also lay members to protect and expand voter participation in states around the country. Here on the New York campus, our students are exploring their opportunities to collaborate with others and increase voter participation. Then, we will continue to pursue relationships with local partners to do broader justice work here in New York. As a Reform movement, we are growing in how we develop relationships with organizations and individuals to collaborate on justice campaigns. Through partnership, we become more powerful than we can be on our own.

At a moment in American life of growing awareness of the deep structural inequality based on race, just registering voters can feel like a limited gesture. But it is an important tool to equalizing power within local and national government. Furthermore, we hope, our work on this campaign now can lead to new relationships and even deeper justice work later for New York students, for the RAC, and for our Reform Movement.


Click here to learn more about Nitzavim. 

Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates men and women for service to North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding. www.huc.edu