The Conspiracy

The Dangers of Social Justice?

http://newvoices.org/2009/08/11/the-dangers-of-social-justice/

There’s a blog on Salon.com I like to read called “How to Save the World,” in which author Dave Pollard espouses his environmental philosophy, creative works, business papers and essays “in search of a better way to live and make a living, and a better understanding of how the world really works.” Among other things, Pollard discusses imagination, community, sustainable economy, art, relationships, and much, much more about people and society. It’s all quite fascinating and an unusually optimistic look at the human condition, something I think individuals tend to ignore among the immediate stresses of being alive.

Now, I don’t intend to bash all of humanity in this post. At times, I do believe that people need their wakeups calls, reminders to appreciate sunshine and family and good food. But Jews are a little different.

Check out this graphic. Pollard has posted it on his blog several times, and I think it speaks right to us as Jews.

whatyouremeanttodo2

Why? As far as Jewish leaders and intellectuals can tell, Jews are passionately pursuing opportunities to participate in social justice and community service projects, especially young Jews, who eagerly offer their innovation and creativity for the betterment of their communities. Here are some examples from a recent article in the Forward by Simon Greer, president and CEO of Jewish Funds for Justice:

• Several leading Jewish foundations, including the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation and the Jim Joseph Foundation, recently provided more than $18 million in seed funding for a new Jewish organization, Repair the World. This nonprofit aims to “make service a defining element of American Jewish life, learning, and leadership.”
• San Francisco’s Jewish Community Federation hired as its CEO Daniel Sokatch, the founding director of the California-based Progressive Jewish Alliance. This marked the first time that the leader of a local Jewish social-change group had been tapped to run a Jewish federation.
• BBYO, the country’s leading interdenominational Jewish youth movement, is making service the cornerstone of its programming. In the fall BBYO will complete a merger with Panim, an organization that promotes Jewish leadership and values through a range of programs.
• The Conservative movement has taken a leading role in the highest-profile struggle over issues of social justice within the Jewish community. The scandal over working conditions at the Agriprocessors kosher slaughterhouse mobilized a broad coalition of Jewish groups. And it helped spur the Conservative movement to create a new ethical certification for kosher foods and to adopt a stronger position in support of workers’ rights.

According to this article featuring the ideas of Professor Jonathan Sarna, both Jewish and secular social justice projects attract a large part of the Jewish community’s enthusiasm. Without the great central causes such as the creation of a Jewish state and saving European, Soviet, Arab, and Ethiopian Jewry that once energized contemporary American Jews, social justice seems to be our up-and-coming unifying mission.

Is this a good thing? To tell you the truth, I’m torn. The efforts of Jews could contribute to the fulfillment of Pollard’s “What you’re meant to do” picture and ultimately play a key role in the public square and address today’s most vital societal issues. This potential success is important to consider as we could, perhaps, help find the answer to the question of “How to save the world.”

But as Sarna expressed:

These are significant causes, with a sound basis in our tradition, Professor Sarna said, but they are not, ultimately, Jewish causes, in the way that Zionism and the Soviet Jewry movement were. He concluded that Diaspora Jews are the poorer for not having a well-defined, elevating mission to inspire us. Once the economic downturn is behind us, he called for the goal of formulating a new and compelling mission for our Jewish community to be high on our collective agenda.

The dilemma Sarna presents is fascinating, and I wholly agree with his reasoning. As Jews continue to assimilate rapidly into American culture, I would encourage everyone to stop and think about what exactly their mission is when engaging in social service. I would never discourage Jews from participating in social justice projects whose goal is to benefit the global community; on the contrary, I believe Jews are in the position to radically improve the world because of their passion and drive to do good. The Jewish contribution could prove to be invaluable.

But we should remember that social justice is part of our identity as a Jewish people. No matter the cause, the Jewish concept of tikkun olam should be at the forefront. This way, we’ll remain a people unified by a singular mission and escape the danger of losing our Jewish identity in all we’re preoccupied with.

3 Older Responses to “The Dangers of Social Justice?”

  1. Michael Hessel-Mial
    August 17, 2009 at 5:16 pm #

    I’m not quite sure I follow Sarna’s argument, mostly because I get concerned with how quickly he dismisses social justice causes as not Jewish, compared to Zionism. The discourse of Zionism seems to gauge one’s level of Jewish commitment by their acceptance of the idea that our ‘right to a homeland’ trumps other concerns, including developing a progressive (and Jewish) humanism. Such concerns are important, as they are involved with the consequences of empire and the mass displacement of people. Though complicated by anti-semitism, this situation is the product of forces that have occurred world-wide, making our particular struggle part of a larger problem. In this, I consider social justice to be more true to Judaism’s call to make the world a better place. Though it may not appear Jewish on the front end, the results that will appear on the back end will ultimately reveal their commitment to Judaism’s promise.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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    […] NewVoices: Rebecca Blady-August 11, 2009; There’s a blog on Salon.com I like to read called “How to Save the World,” in which author Dave Pollard espouses his environmental philosophy, creative works, business papers and essays “in search of a better way to live and make a living, and a better understanding of how the world really works.” Among other things, Pollard discusses imagination, community, sustainable economy, art, relationships, and much, much more about people and society. It’s all quite fascinating and an unusually optimistic look at the human condition, something I think individuals tend to ignore among the immediate stresses of being alive. […]

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    […] NewVoices: Rebecca Blady-August 11, 2009; There’s a blog on Salon.com I like to read called “How to Save the World,” in which author Dave Pollard espouses his environmental philosophy, creative works, business papers and essays “in search of a better way to live and make a living, and a better understanding… […]

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