Religion & Beliefs

Notes From The Delegation (Pt. 2): The Pursuit Of Justice

The passion for social justice is, thankfully, not limited to rabbis. The work of tikkun olam requires partnership between professionals and lay people. Read More

By / February 24, 2011
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American Jewish World Service (AJWS), an international development organization, is hosting a global justice conference for rabbis, rabbinical students and Jewish communal leaders near Baltimore this week. The conference, called the Rabbinical Students Delegation Alumni Institute, will focus on leveraging participants’ power to elevate global justice as a core expression of Jewish tradition, both locally and in the larger North American Jewish community. Over the next few days, Rabbi Vered Harris will share her account of the Institute and the issues it raises for 21st century Jews.

For all of our diversity, the rabbis at the American Jewish World Service Rabbinical Students’ Delegation Alumni Institute have in common a commitment to pursue justice. We are rabbis from across the spectrum of Judaism, working or preparing for rabbinates on campuses, in congregations and serving organizations. In each of these places there is space for encouraging social action as a sacred duty.

The passion for social justice is, thankfully, not limited to rabbis. The work of tikkun olam requires partnership between professionals and lay people. Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky of Bnai David-Judea in Los Angeles, teaching as a scholar at the Institute, shared four essential predictors for success with any social justice project we might want to develop.

1. The recipient population, that is: those who the project seeks to help, must mean something to the people being rallied to make change. For a project to be sustainable the participants on the “helping” side need to have reason to personally care about the issue.

2. A project needs at least one or two volunteers who take it on as their own. It must not be “the rabbi’s project” led by gracious lay people. Especially in the beginning the volunteers need a high frustration tolerance so they can stay positive when confronted with obstacles.

3. The project itself needs to allow for family participation. Involving children is a key component for transmitting values and we want to transmit our values.

4. Participants need a reinforcing feedback cycle. When the project keeps on giving to the people who participate (“I really made a difference today”) they will want to come back.

or congregational rabbis these four predictors can serve as a check-list to determine whether or not we are ready to launch a project. Rabbi Kanefsky offered these factors based on his experiences at B’nai David-Judea. When I think about the successful social justice projects in the congregation I serve it is clear that these rubrics have been in place. Unsuccessful projects? The rubrics were not in place.

One empowering realization is that these predictors of success are applicable to social justice projects that anyone may want to implement. When you care about the recipient population, dedicate your time as part of a team, bring your children into the experience and see that your actions matter, you are entering into a sustainable cycle of change. These four components are an organizing factor that I anticipate using for developing programs in the future.

Rabbi Vered Harris is the Education Rabbi at Congregation Beth Torah in Overland Park, Kansas. She participated in AJWS’s Young Rabbis’ Delegation to Muchucuxcah, Mexico last summer.