Posted by: Michelle Lackie, Director, Weinberg Tzedek Hillel Program on 5/8/2007 9:31:00 AM
Every time I explain what I do for a living, the reaction is always the same: “Wow, you get to change the world as part of your job? You’re so lucky.”
I admit it, I am lucky. But what is tzedek, social justice, really all about? Why does Hillel, an organization that serves Jewish college students, have a department devoted to helping the world at large?
Is it because Jews are meant to be or l’goyim, a light unto the nations? Jewish students everywhere are acting as leaders on campus as strong voices against genocide. Some students are baking and selling challah to raise money and awareness about the genocide in Darfur; others are “working for food,” donating the income to Darfur advocacy, and writing letters to congressmen.
Is Tzedek Hillel launching a comprehensive sustainability campaign because after the seven days of creation, God admonished, “if you corrupt [everything that was created] there will be no one to set it right after you.” Is that why Hillel students should work with their university to decrease energy usage on campus?
Is it because we are told in Deuteronomy to open our hand to the poor and needy? Over the past two years 1,600 students have traveled to the Gulf Coast with Hillel to help in recovery and rebuilding work, learning first hand what is needed by a community.
Is it because our grandparents put tzdekah, charity, money in the blue box every week before Shabbat? Or because we went with our parents to a rally on any number of causes when we were kids? Or maybe because it says in the Talmudic chapter known as Pirke Avot, “It is not what one says, but rather what one does that makes all the difference in the world.”
It is all of the above, and more.
My goal is to provide opportunities for students to challenge their own sense of social responsibility as a Jew. This means providing entry points – whether high-impact, transformational experiences like alternative breaks, or high visibility on initiatives on campus like a campaign to lower energy output on campus led by Hillel in partnership with 10 other campus groups. In the process of creating authentic experiences and actions that benefit the community as well as the individual, we help students with their own articulation of why social justice is something Jewish to them.
So why does Hillel have a department dedicated to social justice? Because each time we as Hillel act to pursue justice in an authentic, meaningful way, we engage students in the process and provide accessible space for more and more students to grapple with their own understanding of social justice and Judaism. And I think we are changing the world in the process.
After all, Hillel's mission is not just "to enrich the lives of Jewish students," but to enrich their lives so that they may "enrich the Jewish community and the world."
I truly am lucky to be doing this every day.
RE: Why Do We Do Social Justice?
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