When I was in high school, I was part of a Jewish folk-singing trio with two of my friends. We called ourselves “Hashoshanim” – The Roses. We performed for synagogues and other Jewish organizations across New Jersey and New York in the late 1970’s.
One of our favorite songs was a popular Israeli song by Arik Einstein and Miki Gavrielov, “Ani V’atah”: You and I will change the world, you and I, then all will join us.
The message of this song was a lesson that my parents instilled within me from the time I was young: each one of us has the ability to make a difference in this world. Not only that, but our Jewish tradition teaches us that we are obligated to do our part to make this world a better place for others, a concept known as “tikkun olam” – repairing the world.
We learn from the Torah, “tzedek, tzedek tirdof – justice, justice shall you pursue…” (Deuteronomy 16:20). My parents taught us from a young age how to make these words a reality in our lives by:
- Encouraging us to give tzedakah (charity) from our own money on a regular basis;
- Taking us to march in rallies in Manhattan and Washington, DC to support Israel, to free Soviet Jews, to fight against the war in Viet Nam;
- Speaking out for those who are unable to speak for themselves.
- Keeping social justice issues on the forefront of our congregational agendas and on our agenda for conversation at home.
I continue to be passionate about social justice issues throughout my life. I hear my father’s voice telling me: “Sharon, the Talmud teaches us, ‘once the eye has seen and the ear has heard, you can no longer pretend to be uninvolved or unaffected. You must ACT.'”
During rabbinical school, I had the opportunity to travel to the USSR with two classmates to visit Refuseniks and bring in much needed supplies. I spent 4.5 months in South Africa at the height of Apartheid, working with Reform congregations there and learning about the situation and what we could do back at home to help ameliorate the pain and suffering caused by Apartheid.
My tikkun olam work since ordination has been broad and varied. It has included:
- starting the first Jewish AIDS Committee in Canada;
- continuing to visit the FSU and working with the Jewish communities in Belarus to bring in much needed medical supplies; teaching about Pesach and leading Pesach seders;
- organizing and starting the first Mitzvah Day at my former congregation in Connecticut – a program that has been going on for almost two decades now and has the highest congregational participation outside of High Holy Days;
- Working with the Canadian Reform Movement on a National program to stop Human Trafficking;
- Partnering with the Canadian Reform Movement and ARZA Canada on many Israeli social justice programs.
- And so much more!
I therefore feel so honoured and thrilled to be selected to participate in the American Jewish World Service (AJWS.) Global Justice Fellowship for Rabbis for the 2014-2015 year.
The fellowship is done in conjunction with our work in our own congregations. AJWS feels that congregational rabbis play key roles in our own communities when it comes to coalition building, community organizing and raising awareness about critical issues.
The program includes an 8-10 day educational trip to Kenya in August. We’ll learn from extraordinary local human rights activists who are using grassroots organizing tactics to fight discrimination and sexual and gender-based violence against women, girls and the LGBT community. Back at home, we will engage in innovative training sessions to develop skills in community organizing and advocacy. The goal is to mobilize and organize our communities in support of the wonderful work that AJWS does across the globe and other efforts to promote global justice, as we advocate for human rights and try to end poverty across the world.
As I begin this fellowship this March, I will be blogging about the work I am doing. I hope you will follow my blog and join in our efforts.
“Ani v’atah n’shaneh et ha-olam – together, you and I CAN change the world!”
To learn more about American Jewish World Service and the wonderful work that they do across the world, click here.