Standing up for social reform
By Laura Seymour

seymourforweb2This summer we study mitzvot through “mitzvah heroes.” Each week we remember: “We are standing on the shoulders of the ones who came before us!”
Our value this week is tikkun olam, the mitzvah of healing the world. Tikkun olam is a mitzvah of action. The Hebrew word tikkun means to “fix” or “heal” something that is broken; olam means “world.”
When we do tikkun olam, we are doing acts that will benefit our society from our school to the entire planet earth. This mitzvah is all about making the world a better place and believing that we can and should make a difference in the world.

Mitzvah Hero of Today’s World — Abraham Joshua Heschel

Rabbi Heschel was born in Poland and came to the United States in 1940 to escape the Nazis. He became a professor and through his teaching, Rabbi Heschel influenced a generation of other rabbis and educators.
Rabbi Heschel wrote an important book titled “The Prophets” and it was from his study of the biblical prophets that he decided to become involved in social issues. He was one of the first to protest against the Vietnam War and joined Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in protesting against the lack of civil rights for blacks in the United States.
Heschel marched with King in Selma, Alabama, in 1965 and declared, “When I marched in Selma, my feet were praying.” Rabbi Heschel was passionate in his desire to do his part to “heal the world.”
He stated in response to the Vietnam War: “We must continue to remind ourselves that in a free society, all are involved in what some are doing. Some are guilty, all are responsible.”

In Our Ancestors’ Footsteps — Rose Schneiderman (1882-1972)

Rose Schneiderman was a young immigrant girl at a time when there were very few jobs for immigrants, especially for immigrant women. Most immigrant women worked in “sweatshops,” hot, overcrowded rooms filled with sewing machines that they worked at for 12 to 14 hours a day.
Rose Schneiderman believed that women could improve their working conditions if they worked together, so she cofounded the first union of female workers and became the first woman in a leadership position.
Although she was only 4½ feet tall, Rose Schneiderman was a powerful woman. She fought for the rights of working women throughout her life and when she died in 1972, The New York Times wrote that she “did more to upgrade the dignity and living standards of working women than any other woman.”

Finish these statements:

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel fulfilled the mitzvah of tikkun olam by:
Rose Schneiderman fulfilled the mitzvah of tikkun olam by:
I can fulfill this mitzvah by:

Family Talk Time

  • It has been said that we cannot change the world until we change ourselves. What can you do to change the way you behave that will make a difference in the world?
  • Read the newspaper throughout the week and cut out articles that the family can talk about at the dinner table. This week, look for articles on people who have tried to “fix the world.”
  • Family Brainstorm: Pick a problem in your school, community or even the world.

Remember that brainstorming means that every idea should be put out on the table — even a 3-year-old may have a great solution. First look at all possible solutions, then decide what your family can do to help.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services and director of Jewish life and learning at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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