By Jenn Ross
I recently watched the Netflix limited series Maid, a powerful dramatization of some of the injustices in our society. I was struck by how many of the issues presented in the series caused me to reflect on the Jewish concept of Tzedek, or “justice.”
Social justice efforts are at the center of many Jewish organizations, initiatives, and lines of thought. When we give tzedakah (a word sharing the root of tzedek), we aim to balance out an inequality or injustice that the cause is facing or addresses. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg displayed the words Tzedek, Tzedek, Tirdof – justice, justice, you shall pursue – in her chambers as a guiding value in her work.
Rabbi Marc Margolius from the Institute for Jewish Spirituality describes Tzedek as our capacity to discern and do what is right in our daily lives. He explains “We can practice Tzedek in small ways in our daily lives, as well as in actions to address larger social issues. We can correct our own unconscious biases and prejudices. We can act on small injustices and support the vulnerable on the street, in our family, and in our workplace. We can stand up for and come to the aid of those who are lonely, sick, or suffering. We can strive to heal conflict in our relationships and our society. We can act as better stewards of our environment.”
Striving for justice can seem overwhelming at times, particularly when trying to solve major issues. Recall this guidance from Pirkei Avot:
Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly now. Love mercy now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work but neither are you free to abandon it.
Focusing on what you can accomplish can be very meaningful – advocating for a wheelchair ramp at your synagogue or more inclusive language in your board’s by-laws are everyday ways of pursuing justice.
Locally, Jewish Family Service is working on a new initiative to support Afghan Refugees arriving in Harrisburg in partnership with HIAS. This is important work for those they will serve and those involved in the effort. It is an exciting opportunity to partner with others across the community, including interfaith partners and other grassroots organizations and activists. There are many ways to help that are meaningful and easy to accomplish, such as donating food, money, clothing, or household goods; driving families to doctor’s appointments, identifying resources such as available housing; or just being a good friend and neighbor welcoming these families to our community. Learn more at jfsofhbg.org/afghan-refugee-resettlement.
I encourage you to watch Maid and/or read its source material Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive by Stephanie Land for a better understanding of the economic struggles and hardships that some people encounter in spite of their best efforts. Additionally, it portrays a woman’s struggle with emotional domestic violence. If you are facing economic challenges, JFS and United Way’s 2-1-1 both offer help with essential services. Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence provides local referrals and information about abuse at www.pcadv.org.
I hope you have a happy and healthy New Year. I will be taking a much needed respite the first two weeks of the year, but look forward to hearing from you after that. I will be back in time for MLK Day, another great opportunity for projects to bring more justice to our community. You can reach me at 717-236-9555 x3104 or email@example.com when I return.