For Young Jewish Advocacy Group, Governor's Visit is More Validation than Campaigning

Five-year-old Moishe/Kavod House hosts Patrick Campaign stop.

When Deval Patrick entered, the young crowd packing the hallways, stairwells and public spaces of the Moishe/Kavod House ignited in a show of raw enthusiasm, not only because the Governor had arrived, but because they had.

Patrick's appearance, constructed more like an exchange of ideas than a campaign stop, marked the coming of age for an activist group that started just a few years ago with a handful of like-minded friends meeting over Sabbath dinner and dreaming about changing the world one day.

"Here we are five years later, and the governor is in our living room, listening to our ideas of how to create change," founder Margie Klein said.

The living room in question is on the second floor of the Moishe House Boston: Kavod Jewish Social Justice House, located near Washington Square in Brookline. Part of the national network of Moishe houses, it's home to four of the group's leaders. Many of the group's 99 other formal members and hundreds of associates stop by on a regular basis for a mix of peer-led worship and activism.

That balance is reflected by the building's busy, yet fastidious interior. On a shelf a few feet from where Patrick spoke, a bookshelf provided a little window into the group's thinking. "Down to Earth Judiasm" and "The way into Judaism and the Environment" sat inches from "Building Powerful Community Organizations" and "Bridging Divided Worlds."

Upon entering, up the narrow staircase and past the hand-drawn "Funky Young Jews" sign in the door, the governor thanked them for their leadership and joked that, when he heard one of them say "Can I get an Amen?" he was reminded of his own traditions.

What he didn't know was that, a few minutes before the ceremony began, that very "amen" had been carefully rehearsed. At least one person present even referred jokingly to borrowing from African-American churches.

It was just one of the myriad details in the exhaustively choreographed presentation, one which showed just how seriously Moishe/Kavod takes the "organizer" part of "community organizers."

After singing in Hebrew with the group, Patrick opened with a few familiar campaign messages, notably his upbringing on the South Side of Chicago and what he sees as the progress the commonwealth has made in education, innovation and infrastructure during his administration.

"We have to step up and do things, make sacrifices that may not be convenient for us in the moment, but have in mind our own children and, more importantly, children who we will never meet, but to whom we have a responsibility," the governor said.

In exchange for his attention, Patrick asked Moishe/Kavod members to visit his campaign website, give the campaign their contact information and participate in his re-election effort with donations of money, time and social connections.

After the governor ceded the floor, Moishe/Kavod members arose one-by-one to deliver prepared speeches from a makeshift podium set in a doorway, driving home their own talking points and asking for Patrick's response.

The speeches served as an abridged history of the group, touching on the progress they'd made in each of their major social justice efforts.

The group, who describe themselves as early leaders in the effort to improve Jewish-Muslim relations in Boston, began by thanking Patrick for "standing with us for religious freedom for all faith communities throughout the country."

"We're proud to have a governor who has always stood for engagement and never been scared to have a relationship with the Muslim community," one Moishe/Kavod representative said.

The next speaker asked for Patrick's help "to change the larger system that makes it challenging to buy healthy fresh foods from local farms." It's part of an effort to build on their "Farm to Shule" campaign, which has connected local Jews with farmers and community-supported agriculture.

In response, the self-styled "foodie" governor invited the group to nominate someone to the state food policy council he would be forming, and told them about his efforts to increase access to farmers markets through food stamps and state financial support.

Spanish teacher Riana Good spoke next, chronicling the group's four years of anti-foreclosure and tenants' rights efforts, many of them in partnership with City Life Vida Urbana.

Good challenged the governor to "provide more funding" for innovative programs such as City Life, which she said "has been so popular and so successful that it used up most of its funds in the first three weeks."

Even Good was momentarily surprised by the governor's disarming reply to the request for money, a simple "How much?"

Patrick then deftly promised to do what he could to support the program, while cautioning that he guessed it had gotten its original funds from one-time federal stimulus money.

To wrap up their presentation, the Moishe/Kavod crew unleashed a topic that seemed to spark the governor's imagination: Their anti-usury campaign.

At present, banks can (and do) incorporate in uncapped states like Delaware, freeing them to charge rates far above Massachusetts' 18 percent limit, Moishe/Kavod's Adam Greenspan said.  As part of a larger effort by the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, Greenspan said the group has committed to changing federal legislation to make banks abide by the interest-rate caps of the states in which they're doing business, as they did previous to a court ruling in 1978.

At noon on Nov. 17, GBIO hopes to attract press and bank attention by closing 500 bank accounts at Wells Fargo, Citi Bank, Chase Bank and Bank of America, including at least 45 accounts owned by Moishe/Kavod members and friends.

With their presentations coming in ahead of schedule, founder Margie Klein took the stage to caution the assembly against complacency.

"Now Governor Patrick, I think, is listening to us. So actually, our responsibility now is to work with Governor Patrick to create the change that we've all been talking about. And that starts with working on the election, so we can't just feel good that we've had this event—we actually have to work together."

"I definitely think this moment was, for us, a sense of crystallizing where we've come in the past five years," housemate and GBIO liaison Annie Fox said. "We've gone from just a house that was going to host events sometimes to a dues-paying, formalized membership structure with an elected board that really has a stake in local politics, and a relationship with our local legislators that is really connecting local Jews to social justice opportunities in a meaningful and powerful way."

Before the Governor's car had left Winthrop Road, members of the house were already rounding the troops to a post-meeting "eval." There, they would dissect the event and figure out what went right and what went wrong, presumably so that they're ready for the next world leader to walk through their doors.

Patrick faces Republican Charlie Baker, Independent Tim Cahill and Green-Rainbow candidate Jill Stein in the November election.


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