My parents taught me how to speak up and speak out: for those who are oppressed, for those who may not be able to speak for themselves, for those who need allies marching by their side in support and solidarity. Some of my earliest memories are marching in rallies with my parents in New York City to free Soviet Jews, marching down 5th Avenue to support Israel, marching against the war in Vietnam. I often repeat this Talmudic teaching I learned at a young age from my father: “Once your eye has seen and your ear has heard, you can no longer pretend to be uninvolved or unaffected. You are now obligated to take action – action to affect change.” Thus, my relationship with tikkun olam (fixing the world) and social advocacy began at home . My parents were one of the strongest influences on my life: their strong Zionist ideology, their passion and commitment to speaking out against injustice, their dedication to their synagogue and the Jewish community all inspired me to study for the rabbinate and pursue a career as a Jewish communal professional.
We learn from this week’s Torah portion in Deuteronomy, Shoftim, “tzedek, tzedek tirdof – justice, justice shall you pursue…” (Deuteronomy 16:20). My parents taught us from a young age how to make these words a reality in our lives, how to make these concepts a priority in life.
I travelled to the former Soviet Union and South Africa and initiated social action projects resulting from those experiences. I spearheaded many tikkun olam projects, including: helping to establish a Canadian-wide educational program about Human Trafficking, launching one of the first Canadian programs to support people with HIV and AIDS, creating congregational Mitzvah Days, launching programs to combat racism, hatred and anti-Semitism, participating in the American Jewish World Service Global Justice Rabbinic Fellowship, initiating Afghan Refugee Resettlement efforts and Ukraine Crisis Relief support and so much more.
I am just one person. I don’t do this critical work alone. I partner with others who dedicate their professional and volunteer lives to bringing tzedek – justice, and tikkun – repair, to our world. I am inspired by so many who are tireless in their endeavors to speak up, reach out and work to make change a lasting reality. I am inspired by the passion, dedication and commitment I see among you, my new Temple Beth Sholom community, for joining hands, working to make our world a better place. Ani v’atah, n’shaneh et ha’olam: together, you and I can change our world.
STANDING on the parted shores of history
we still believe what we were taught
before ever we stood at Sinai’s foot;
that wherever we go, it is eternally Egypt
that there is a better place, a promised land;
That the winding way to that promise
passes through the wilderness.
That there is no way to get from here to there
except by joining hands, marching together.
Mishkan T’filah: A Reform Siddur: Complete: Shabbat, Weekdays, and Festivals (Transliterated) (p. 157). CCAR Press.
Rabbi Sharon L. Sobel
Senior Rabbi, Temple Beth Sholom of Orange County
(Top photo is from the 2019 Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism’s “Consultation on Conscience”, Washington, DC)
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