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The Jewish Event that Inspired Me to Take Action

The Jewish Event that Inspired Me to Take Action

Shot from the back of a crowded room showing a number of Jewish attendees wearing prayer shawls and head coverings with their arms around one another as they face the stage

Settling into my seat in the quiet car, I sighed as the train pulled out of Union Station. Partially exhausted, thoroughly exhilarated, I was on my way home from Consultation on Conscience – the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism’s (RAC) biennial social justice conference – with a myriad thoughts swirling through my head.

Like other Reform Jewish events in my past, this one was suffused with learning, camaraderie, and ruach (spirit). Being in a room with 800 Reform Jews whose passions align with my own? In a word, thrilling.

Why were we there, these 800 people from 34 states? Pre-conference, some of us shared our reasons for attending online:

“The most important aspects in my life are Judaism and social justice. Being enveloped in both of them together should be truly awe-inspiring.”

“Our future is in jeopardy.”

“Working toward a better world with other like-minded Reform Jews.”

“After the presidential election, I feel the need to work on maintaining and expanding social justice for all.”

“The opportunity to learn how to be a more effective activist for social justice.”

And so it was for me. Although I consider myself to be something of an introvert, more comfortable behind the scenes than on center stage, I am different now. I have found my voice through my passion for justice.

How could I not take action when each day presented a shocking new soundbite from the administration? The refusal to open our doors to refugees, the disregard for the disabled, attacks on the poor, the anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, the climate change and the disavowal of scientific research. This is not the country I know. These are not the values we have been taught.

Political views notwithstanding, it was clear to me that something was broken – and that, if I didn’t speak up, I was part of the problem. As ardent as my convictions were, however, they were not shared by everyone, including some of my friends. I wrestled with the dilemma of how to agree to disagree and then move forward together.

Regardless of our positions, could we not find common ground in protecting our rights and those of the oppressed and agree that doing justice is a moral obligation? The value of tikkun olam, repair of the world, is deeply embedded in Judaism and other faiths, as well, a guiding principle for being a kind and good person and doing the right thing.

If we live our lives by tikkun olam, pursuing justice should be clear for all of us. I thought of this when the RAC made an urgent plea for tikkun olam with a brit olam, a covenant with our world, “because we seek the world we want, not the world as it is.”

Yes. This is our mandate.

We attendees returned to our communities to impart the lessons learned, to raise awareness of issues affecting our most vulnerable populations and what we can do to protect them, and provide tools to propel our congregations into action.

Before the train arrived at my destination, I pulled out my conference workbook and flipped through the pages, most of them earmarked for future perusal. As I read my scribbled words in the margins, I found this: “I was taught it was my responsibility to leave the world a better place.”

I tried to remember whose quote I was reading. After all, there were a wealth of quotable messages over the three days of the conference, and in my haste to capture them, I neglected to note the author.

It could have been Megan Black, national clergy organizer for the PICO National Network, a multi-faith, multi-racial network of community organizations. Or perhaps it had been Anat Hoffman, founding member of Women of the Wall and a fierce warrior for social justice. Or the Reverend Cornell Brooks, president and CEO of the esteemed grassroots based civil rights organization, the NAACP.

It could have been any of the keynoters, workshop leaders, or, for that matter, any of the attendees. I remembered, eventually, that the words came from Congresswoman Jacky Rosen (D-NV), who shared this with us just hours before we headed to Capitol Hill to lobby our legislators in person – one of the most empowering, fulfilling moments of my life.

We all have a responsibility to leave the world a better place.

I was inspired by the wisdom of so many activists at Consultation on Conscience, and even a month later, I find myself emboldened with the spirit of tikkun olam.

There is work to be done. And I can’t wait to get started.

Helene Cohen Bludman is a freelance writer and longtime member of Beth David Reform Congregation in Gladwyne, PA.

Helene Cohen Bludman
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