The Global Citizen is a joint project of New Voices and the American Jewish World Service (AJWS). Throughout the year, a group of former AJWS volunteers will offer their take on global justice, Judaism, and international development. Opinions expressed by Global Citizen bloggers do not necessarily represent AJWS.
Within Avodah, AJWS, and other realms at the intersection of Judaism and social justice, there is a central identity question that arises time and again: can social justice work for all be innately Jewish in nature, or are we simply Jews who happen to care about social justice?
This post aims to open up that conversation.
It seems to me that the subtext of Jewish identity, especially in America, is shifting away from survival-mode to a more ambiguous, fluid celebration of multiple facets of Jewish identity. The up-and-coming generation of Jews being two-times removed from the period of post-Holocaust rebuilding seems to be resulting in a need for a new basis to care about identifying with a larger Jewish community. Jewish texts are renowned for their expansiveness and complexity, and therefore have many different strong themes for people to latch onto. Social justice, human rights, food equity and sustainability, environmentalism, and many other forms of social consciousness for the greater good have become strong themes that young Jews have taken on in order to reconnect with their own Jewishness in a meaningful way.
Judaism has many calls to justice, even if they are not so labeled, from texts on one’s responsibility to the stranger to paying a worker at the end of each day. Although there are many sources calling for the importance of caring for others as you do yourself, this doesn’t mean other religions or those not in a faith group do not have compelling reasons or texts for caring as well. It’s a basic by-product of the Golden Rule and a common result of a solid moral compass based in basic intuition. Therefore, to me what makes this work Jewish in nature depends on any given person and their own relationship to why they care about and work on what they do.
None of this is say the commitment to the Jewish community alone isn’t incredible valuable, as community-based organizations are among the most effective social service and change groups. The funding comes easier, the mission is clearer, and there is a built-in support network of a close-knit community- whether Jewish, Cambodian, Ethiopian, or a workers’ union. However, in today’s globalized world, with a growing ease of transport and communication, the suffering of people halfway around the world can be on our screens and in our inboxes in seconds. And with the gap between the rich and the poor–as well as between developed and developing countries–growing at a rapid pace, this Jew has to wonder if the scale of poverty is a call to action in itself. Especially in light of the following text, I would say so:
“And if your brother becomes poor and his means fail him with you, then you will strengthen him, be he a stranger or a settler, he shall live with you.”(Leviticus 25:35)
While this is not an extensive take on the question, I hope it serves as a conversation starter.
What do you think?