Labor on the Bimah 5778 — an annual series of events drawing attention to issues facing today’s workforce and the Jewish community’s role in pursuing social justice — took place in the days before and after Labor Day across the Greater Washington and Baltimore area.
Now in its 21st year, Labor on the Bimah is part of a national initiative by Interfaith Worker Justice and the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), the leading union organization in the United States. Parallel Labor in the Pulpit and Labor in the Minbar events are held each year in the Christian and Muslim communities as well.
Jews United for Justice (JUFJ) helped facilitate local Labor on the Bimah events, sending staff to speak and offering resource packets with background information on worker justice issues, Jewish sources, and sample sermons for congregations to use. A regional organization, JUFJ aims to mobilize the Jewish community to move the region closer to social, racial, and economic justice by advancing campaigns for immediate and concrete improvements in people’s lives. The organization focuses on issues such as higher minimum wages, paid family leave, police accountability, and affordable housing.
“Whether it’s through the parsha of the week, bringing in themes of Shabbat as a day of rest, or the high holidays and the calendar, this is a good time of the year to reflect on the way Jewish tradition connects with those values,” said Laura Wallace, Montgomery County senior organizer for JUFJ.
Events for Labor on the Bimah 5778 (5778 was the Jewish calendar year prior to Rosh Hashana) took place at over a dozen local Jewish congregations, including Temple Micah, Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, Bet Mishpachah, Washington Hebrew Congregation, and Temple Sinai in Washington, D.C., and the Bolton Street Synagogue and Beth Am in Baltimore. Additional Maryland congregations included Shirat HaNefesh in Chevy Chase; Shaare Tfila in Olney; Congregation Or Chadash in Damascus; Am Kolel in Beallsville; Adat Shalom in Bethesda; and B’nai Israel in Rockville. Participating congregations were affiliated with the Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Jewish Renewal movements.
Some gatherings focused on topics familiar to community members. At Temple Sinai, for instance, Robert Molofsky spoke about DC transit workers’ fight against eroding benefits and how members of the congregation have helped in that fight.
Others featured subjects that have made headlines in recent months. At Sixth & I, Diana Ramirez of Restaurant Opportunities Center DC spoke about Initiative 77 and the One Fair Wage Campaign.
Additional issues covered at the various events included paid sick leave, a $15 minimum wage, and water affordability in Baltimore County.
Bennet Wilcox, Baltimore County organizer for JUFJ, said that while these events tend to stand out due to their proximity to Labor Day, efforts to mobilize around these causes have been ongoing in the area for years.
“As we’re coming around to this time of the year, it is important to remember that many people are being left behind by drastic economic and racial inequality that exists in this country,” he said.
By Anis Modi
Anis Modi is a staff reporter for Kol HaBirah. Born and raised in Israel, he currently writes for several DC-based publications while pursuing his master’s degree at American University.