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.
(Thanks to Faigy Abdelhak for her post on social justice in Judaism.)
Here is a series of views. Select which lies closest to your own:
a. As Jews, we should care only about helping Jews.
b. As Jews, we should work to help non-Jews, but only after helping Jews.
c. As Jews and people, we should work to help all humanity.
What did you pick? To be fair, my answer wasn’t among the above. Here’s my response:
As a Jew, I am obligated to help people of all religions, nationalities, genders, races, etc. And here’s the crucial point: we are not separate. There is no choice between helping Jews or helping non-Jews. We are all part of the same intricate system, part of G-d’s creation, and we all have a responsibility to heal the world.
Whew! That’s a dense thought. I’ve lived with it for the past two years and there are still parts of it I’m learning about. So what do I mean to say?
My own spiritual practice in Judaism depends on this understanding. I don’t help the poor because of a sense of obligation to something other than myself; I offer food to poor people because they are me and I am them, and we are all holy. The social justice world, funnily enough, has captured this spirituality with the idea of privilege and oppression. I have benefited from privilege – I have a place to sleep at night partly thanks to the fact that I am white, middle-class, and have other privileges. And part of each of our G-d-given roles in the world is to understand our own place in this large whole and embrace it.
Spiritual Judaism advocates true environmentalism: not an understanding of saving something other than ourselves, something distant, but something that is so intimately connected with our neshamot, our souls, that one cannot exist without the other.
When we ask ourselves, “Should I care about Jews first, or non-Jews first?” we can often be asking a harmful question. Rather, let’s ask, “Jews and non-Jews are each part of Hashem’s creation, G-d’s handiwork. How will my unique constellation of abilities and passions contribute to sanctifying that whole?”