The most fundamental foundational principles of Judaism reside in the way we treat others and the work we do in service of justice. We are taught repeatedly – through Torah and our sages (ancient and modern) – that it is our responsibility and honor to actively pursue justice, care for our neighbor and the stranger, and support those less fortunate than we. Thus, when members of our Little Minyan recently discussed what we value about our kehilla and our visions for the future, it was not surprising that activism around social justice and environmental care was prominent in our minds and hearts.
In December, we hosted members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) at our Human Rights Shabbat and heard about their struggles for justice and dignity for farmworkers. We then put that knowledge to use as we joined with other faith groups and community allies to increase public awareness of injustice in our food chain. THIS WEEKEND (March 8 and 9), we have an extraordinary opportunity to join hundreds of farmworkers and allies traveling to Columbus from across the country to encourage local fast food giant, Wendy’s, to sign the Fair Food Agreement that ensures basic human rights for laborers. Truah and others from the Jewish community have heeded this call. Yet our local Jewish community has been slow and reluctant to respond. Some leaders cite contributions to congregations from Wendy’s or congregants who own franchises, others claim that congregants wouldn’t be interested because kashrut observance makes eating at Wendy’s a nonstarter. Still others of us seem content to have a day or two each year that we call “Tikkun Olam Day.”
Our sages taught (and still teach) that no matter how much we study Torah and how many mitzvot we perform, if we fail to intercede to protect the innate dignity of others, if we are silent in face of injustice, if we are guided by fear of repercussion vs. fear of human degradation, if we “talk the talk” but “don’t walk the walk,” then we are doomed. (Leviticus Rabbah 25:1). Rabbi Sharon Brous teaches, in response to this text, that Torah can inspire us to “live with compassion, courage, and integrity, to believe in the possibility of real authentic justice, to cry out in protest when human hearts and bodies are broken.” If Torah doesn’t inspire us to activism, she suggests we are not reading it “faithfully.”