ECCO Expands Scope, Work with Synagogues
March 18, 2012 | The North Shore Jewish Journal | Link to article
LYNN — The Essex County Community Organizations, a faith-based community organizing agency, is expanding its scope on the North Shore in an effort to create a large group of faith-based communities committed to tackling the economic and social issues confronting the area.
To that end, they have a new director in place, Daniel Lesser, and are reaching out to clergy not previously involved, including the area’s synagogues and rabbis. They have recently held organizing meetings with 35 members of the clergy from across the North Shore.
Lesser, who was trained through the Jewish Organizing Initiative, said, “This is an exciting moment for the Jewish community of the North Shore I am really impressed with how open and excited the congregations are about looking beyond just their synagogues in interacting as a huge group.”
A bigger group will allow ECCO to “think bigger and interact with political leaders,” Lesser said.
Barbara Kaplan of Rockport, a volunteer ECCO leader from Temple Ahavat Achim in Gloucester, said that the faith communities of Cape Ann worked with ECCO on a few big projects including the Chill Zone, a youth dropin center in Gloucester, and the Rivendale Park Residents Group.
Recently, ECCO advocated for issues such as summer jobs for inner city youth. Lesser dreams of forming a huge coalition to take on issues such as debt, job training and education.
Prior to working on the North Shore, Lesser worked as an organizer in New Bedford, also organizing churches and synagogues to work together on social issues.
Rabbi Steven Lewis of Temple Ahavat Achim applauded the groundworkbeing laid by Lesser.
“This is a great model for putting our values into action in the world and for a community to understand our own commitments and understand what people are struggling with,” Rabbi Lewis said.
Art McDonald, president of ECCO and minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Essex, explained that ECCO wanted to be able to have a bigger impact.
“We brought in Daniel with hope of new energy and vision. We had a feeling that we were not reaching potential,” McDonald said.
Kaplan feels optimistic about the future, too. She is thrilled that so many other synagogues are interested in joining ECCO.
“The growing of ECCO can only be a great thing. Years ago, the issues were always affordable housing, living wage jobs, health care and positive youth development. I think today, most people would come up with similar issues, and we will have more power by expanding. This work is in sync with Jewish values,” Kaplan said.
Lesser, who grew up in Amherst, said his love of social change work was not originally part of “who I was as a Jew,” but now he sees the work as a practice of Judaism.
“I am practicing my faith of seeing the divine in other people and of tikkun olam (repairing the world),” he said.