As a young Jewish woman, it is no surprise that the first thing that comes to mind when I think of social justice is Tikkun Olam. From my first Hebrew school lessons at age 5, to watching my parents always be strong social advocates, it's a phrase that has been foundational to my character and my bond to Judaism. Tikkun Olam means “to repair the world”. We are taught to believe that though the world was created to be innately good, there are many things left for us to repair. Humans are social creatures, and I feel that many of the injustices that I was exposed to, as I shifted from childhood to adulthood, become apparent to me in the social sphere. I witnessed and experienced many social injustices firsthand, and was exposed to many others through social media. To me, Tikkun Olam is actively educating yourself on and fighting for social justice – working to build a better world in the future. That means not making my progressive social activism performative.
In Torah class the last few weeks at BINA we have been reading from the book of Isaiah the prophet. In chapter one he speaks to the people of Zion, acting as a messenger of God, and accuses them of being disingenuous. He claims they are going through the motions of sacrificing, keeping the sabbath, etc. while in reality, they lead lives riddled with sin and gluttony. God says to the people of Zion, through Isaiah, “Learn to do well; seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow” (Isaiah.1.17). Though I just recently learned that the phrase “Tikkun Olam” is never explicitly mentioned in the Torah (thanks Elliot!!), this verse is pivotal to how I interpret Tikkun Olam and social justice in Judaism. As Jewish people, we have a responsibility to advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves, for those marginalized and left as cultural outliers. I feel that a lot of activism I have witnessed today (mainly online) sadly falls into this performative trap described by Isaiah. Reposting and learning from infographics is not enough – If anything, maybe it is a start. That is a lesson I myself had to learn a few times.
Standing up for the marginalized, for social injustice, often times it means standing up for ourselves and the deep-rooted antisemitism in our communities. It means calling out white supremacy and systemic racism. It means looking at the neighborhoods that cities want to hide, and listening to the people there. It can mean just trying my best to make the invisible feel seen and heard. Social justice means something different to everyone, but my own activism and the ideals of Tikkun Olam are unequivocally connected in my character. I am always trying my best to be a more genuine and educated social justice warrior, and it can be a challenge because it doesn’t come easy. This is one of the main reasons I choose to participate in a BINA Gap Year, to be influential in building something for a better future and expose myself to different social challenges. I’ll conclude with a quote from Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a Jewish social justice warrior who has influenced my perception of justice greatly,
“Whatever you choose to do, leave tracks. That means don’t do it just for yourself. You will want to leave the world a little better for your having lived.”
// Talia Zamir