Issue #5

  1. Introducing TIKKUN/REPAIR

  2. Sanctuary

  3. "Iron Dome Listicle"

  4. Patterns

  5. The Diaspora of Poland-Palestine

  6. "Operation" and "Price of Entry"

  7. Three States of Gender Alchemy

  8. The Octopus

  9. Among Refugees Generation Y

  10. Tikkun Olam, or "small-z Zionism"?

  11. 29 Texts on Tikkun Olam

  12. The Problematics of Return

  13. Reading Reparation

  14. Tikkun Olam Today

  15. Stories of Demolition

  16. Work and Worship

  17. "Hevron" and "Mishna Ketubot 4:4"

  18. The Sign Under Which They Fight

  19. Heat Signature

  20. Cultivating Jewish "Ecotheology"

  21. Entropical Futures

  22. A Problem

Tikkun Olam Today

We asked close to a dozen Jewish social justice organizations the following question: How does the concept of tikkun olam play a role, if any, in your organization’s ideology and/or work? The answers, below, offer a comprehensive picture of how some of today’s leading Jewish organizations root the concept of tikkun olam in our present moment and how it reflects in their everyday work.

Achvat Amim

“We view the concept of tikkun olam (repairing the world) as totally inextricable from the concept of tikkun adam (repairing one’s self). Repairing the world is impossible unless we are simultaneously modeling the world we want to see in our everyday lives, relationships and homes. Similarly, communities that tend to focus on internal systems, relationships, and values too often forget about the world outside and desist from the task of working to build a better world for everyone. We organize through a framework of tikkun adamtikkun olam applied towards building a world based on the core values of justice, equality, and self-determination for all peoples. In every cohort of Achvat Amim, we ask folks to come ready to engage both in the hard work of learning and exploring ourselves, our cultures, and our identities, while taking part in intensive volunteer work that is changing reality here and now, and building a stronger justice movement. Each cohort’s practice of tikkun adam-tikkun olam involves living communally in the heart of Jerusalem, taking part in a critical and democratic learning process, and volunteering with prominent Palestinian and Israeli human rights organizations and communities working to build a just future.” Daniel Roth, co-founder and program director

American Jewish World Service

“For AJWS, tikkun olam—the Hebrew phrase for repairing the world—is the essence of what it means to be Jewish. Jewish teachings to help the poor, care for the stranger, and recognize the inherent dignity of every human being animate our commitment to build a better world. The Jewish tenet that all human beings are created b’tzelem Elokim—in the Divine image—underscores our belief that all people are infinitely valuable and deserving of respect. In response to persecution and genocide perpetrated against Jews in the past, AJWS is committed to ending hatred and bigotry against all people.”

Robert Bank, president and chief executive officer

Bend the Arc: Jewish Action

“God gathered the dust [of the first human] from the four corners of the world—red, black, white, and green. Red is the blood, black is the innards, and green for the body. Why from the four corners of the earth? So that if one comes from the east to the west and arrives at the end of his life, as he nears departing from the world, it will not be said to him, ‘This land is not the dust of your body, it’s of mine. Go back to where you were created.’ Rather, every place that a person walks, from there she was created and from there she will return.” —Yalkut Shimoni, Genesis 1:13 “This is one of my favorite midrashim. This sentiment—that our shared humanity is all that we need as evidence of our equality—embodies tikkun olam, and is foundational to the world we at Bend the Arc are driven to create. It’s what motivates us to build an America where everyone belongs and everyone is included; where everyone is welcomed and everyone is welcome to thrive. And where everyone is treated with dignity and respect, no matter what corner of the world they are from. When we see ourselves as one, anything is possible.”

Ginna Green, chief strategy officer

CADENA

Jewish values profoundly influence our work as a humanitarian disaster-relief agency and tikkun olam is at the core of what we do. As an organization born in Mexico, we have experienced first-hand the profound inequalities of the developing world. These rifts have rendered millions of people vulnerable to natural disasters. ‘To repair the world’ is, for us, a call to step beyond our comfort zones and address this growing vulnerability, which will only get worse with the effects of climate change. This is why we travel around the world to attend those in need: to fulfill what we consider a sacred task.”

Alan Grabinsky, content editor

IfNotNow

Tikkun olam, for many Jews, means working to repair the world through acts of care. We, in IfNotNow, see that more as g’milut hesed, and believe tikkun olam represents something even bigger. In our movement, tikkun olam serves as a slogan for systemic change—a moral call to build a Jewish community that recognizes we cannot be free absent the freedom of Palestinians. It’s what drives us to attempt to repair, what we see as a breach in the just functioning of the world. As part of the generation that feels increasingly betrayed by a community that doesn’t reflect our values, we find it imperative in our work to reclaim this central tenet of Judaism—to truly repair, and not just bandage.”

Lizzie Horne, member

The Jewish Activism Summer School

Tikkun olam is central to the mission of JASS; it is the very reason JASS was founded. I understand the goals of tikkun olam as the term has come to be used today to have enormous overlap with the goals of secular, non-Jewish roles such as activist, change-maker, social entrepreneur, innovator, protestor, and even revolutionary. We at JASS seek to inspire, educate, and train people to transform their communities, cities, countries, and the world for the better. From its traditional usages to its modern variants, tikkun olam has referred to ordering society so as to prevent problems in the first place rather than ameliorating them after the fact. Practices, laws, and systems should be changed when they cause harm—a radical strategy that gets at the root of problematic human structures and was called for and implemented by the ancient rabbis (so often seen as conservative). The rabbis preaching tikkun olam are our teachers, along with abolitionists, suffragettes, social workers, environmentalists and….”

Jonathan Schorsch, founding director (an artwork by Jonathan Schorsch appears in this issue)

Jews For Racial and Economic Justice

Tikkun olam is actually a phrase that doesn’t come up very often in JFREJ literature or everyday organizing conversations. And, of course, it means very different things to different people. I would say the mishnaic sense of tikkun olam, of maintenance or amendment of a system of laws and order for the sake of status-quo social stability and welfare—for example, Hillel’s decision to weaken the practice of universal debt forgiveness on the Jubilee in order to incentivize lenders to continue lending—feels more reform-oriented (to use an anachronistic term) than the work we do. Halevay, that we should live in a society that enjoyed periodic universal debt forgiveness! In the kabbalistic sense of the term, kicking Amazon out of Queens, electing a slate of progressive state senators, and our Juneteenth seder have all felt like moments to me where sparks of the Divine have been gloriously reunited with one another through our work with our coalition partners—but that’s certainly not the language or framework we use organizationally, internally or externally. The modern, American sense of tikkun olam seems to refer to a very broad range of communally oriented activities, from community service pick-up-the-trash days to non-violent direct action. We find that speaking about ‘racial and economic justice’ helps us most effectively convey our specific focus on a grassroots organizing approach to ending structural oppression by justly reallocating power and resources in our society.”

Jonah S. Boyarin, member

Jewish Voice for Peace

“Inside the phrase tikkun olam is this idea that this world is broken and in need of repair. In the original Kabbalistic meaning, we repair the world by bringing together the dispersed sparks of divinity. This is a deeply powerful sentiment. The current world isn’t as whole, isn’t as equitable as it could be and needs to be. Our work is about tending to and shining light on that brokenness, work that brings more questions than answers. What does it mean to recognize the divinity in everyone? How can bringing people together—through relationship, through grassroots organizing, through recognizing leadership—be a roadmap to repairing the world? How do we bring the world together across difference and harm? While the phrase is sometimes overused, we still get inspiration from it. The sparks of divinity in each person connectus us to one of our core values: the capacity of people to change. And at the same time, we believe in holding and being attentive to the brokenness of the here and now, to build the world we want to see.”

Tallie Ben Daniel, research and education manager

Repair The World

“Tikkun olam is central to our work, our mission, our name. It’s what motivates us as an organization every day. How can we continue repairing the world? What does it mean for us to do so? How can we care for the most vulnerable people in our society? At Repair, we do this through service alongside those most impacted by the issues we’re trying to address. Repair the World was founded on the belief that service is the central message of our Jewish tradition; showing up for one another is key to leaving the world a better place than how we found it. Tikkun olam is an urgent call to make a positive impact. At Repair the World, we mobilize people to take action at the local level with trusted community partners so that service is thoughtful, authentic, and a vehicle for building relationships between communities and people who might otherwise never interact with each other. Service is about taking action, and when done well, it’s also an opportunity for learning about systemic issues that caused the service to be needed in the first place. Meaningful service has the potential to transform our communities and also to transform ourselves.”

Cindy Greenberg, interim chief executive officer and president

T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights

“Tikkun olam has a long and rich evolution in Jewish tradition and text, from Mishnaic ideas about correcting flaws in the legal system to the mystical ideas of the Kabbalists and into the 20th century. While tikkun olam can be a useful framework for Jewish social justice work, T’ruah generally prefers the framing of tzelem Elokim—the belief that humans are created in the image of God. As a human rights organization, our work is grounded in the sanctity of each individual human being and expands outward from there to society’s unjust structures and systems. While the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights is framed in secular language, as an organization of over 2,000 rabbis and cantors, we see these rights as an expression of the religious values stemming from the first chapter of Genesis. Another benefit of tzelem Elokim is that it directs our attention forward. Tikkun, ‘repair,’ risks implying that the world can be put ‘back’ the way it originally was. As we learn from the famous folk tale attributed to the Maggid of Dubno about the king whose favorite diamond became irreparably scratched, there is no going back to a pristine original state. When we work to protect and advance human rights, we are reaching towards a new kind of wholeness, something that the world has never seen, but whose potential has been held forth as a possibility by our sacred texts from our earliest days.”

Rabbi Lev Meirowitz-Nelson, director of rabbinic training