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We’re All Responsible for Fighting Injustice

We’re All Responsible for Fighting Injustice

Injustice written on a blackboard with the Un partially erased

As anyone with a Jewish mother can attest, guilt is a powerful tool. (Now that I’m a Jewish mother myself, I can crack that joke.) Its power often prompts us to act. As a fundraiser and social justice advocate, I’m okay with that. Waxing poetic about the purity of one’s intentions is fine, but a good dose of guilt often is what gets people moving.

As North American Jews, we have attained a certain level of privilege, notwithstanding the recent anti-Semitic threats that have plagued Jewish institutions across the country. Generally, we are regarded as equal members of civil society and, as a group, certainly we have thrived economically.

So, where is the guilt in that?

Perhaps there isn’t any, but I tend to think that with this privilege comes a sense of obligation (some might call it guilt) to take care of the most vulnerable among us. Their numbers are steadily increasing, and currently include people who face discrimination or abuse because of their skin color, religious beliefs, country of origin, or gender identity.

When we realize our guilt, Jewish tradition calls on us to make amends. This week’s parashah, Vayikra, teaches “upon realizing guilt in any of these matters, one shall confess having sinned in that way. And one shall bring as a penalty to YHVH, for the sin of which one is guilty.” The parashah refers specifically to ethical offenses such as withholding information in legal situations or ritual violations such as touching something impure, but I think we can expand on this mitzvah (commandment) – without sacrificing any livestock.

The notion that one can make things right, even long after a sin has been committed, tells me that we all can do justly even if it takes us a while to recognize the need to do so. As soon as we see our responsibility to do the work of tikkun olam (repair of the world), every person has the opportunity to make amends, to do justice, in whatever time it takes.

With that mitzvah in mind, when we identify an individual or group in our midst under attack, we must respond – even if we are delayed in doing so. Once we realize our sinful inaction, we are doubly called to address it.

What can you do to address injustice in your neighborhood? Your city? Your state?

The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (the RAC) has several tools to help all of us respond to the injustices that surround us:

Catherine Gibson, the development director at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (the RAC), grew up in the Reform Movement, and credits it, as well as the URJ’s Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute (OSRUI) and Brandeis University for helping to shape her into the person she is today.

Catherine Gibson
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