In what ways is the Stolen Beam “Kaplanian in spirit?”
Working for social justice was an essential part of Kaplan’s vision. “The Jewish religion,” he wrote, “should articulate and urge upon us those values which would impel us to utilize our abilities and our opportunities both for our own salvation and for that of our fellow man (sic).” As we see it, the Stolen Beam is also resonant with Kaplanian thought, especially in the ways the Jewish religion can provide a program for living and acting dynamically within two civilizations. For our community, the series has allowed for important “external work”, including relationship building between the JCA and outside communities. It has encouraged relationship building with African American leaders in Amherst and beyond, as well as Black and White leaders who are spearheading our own civic effort, Reparations for Amherst. The series has also allowed for important internal work.
Not only has the Stolen Beam series inspired secular Jews who had little engagement in the JCA to get involved but some have also become inspiring models of Jewish engagement. It has clarified for some the importance of doing racial justice work as Jews in the context of a Jewish community, committed to putting core Jewish values and ethics into action. This aligns with Kaplan’s desire to create a common umbrella for both religious and secular expressions and also, in the words of Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, “making our synagogues vessels of tikkun olam.”
Finally, the Kaplanian spirit is evident in the living and evolving nature of the Stolen Beam series itself. The curriculum has evolved in both content and format these last 16 months, responding to the needs of the community using it. It now has been used in both Jewish, Christian and secular settings as part of reparations education.
When the Stolen Beam was used recently with Board members of Reconstructing Judaism, new formats were introduced including a period of discussion in hevrutah, as well as the use of racial affinity groups.