My Rashi class, the class of 2002, founded the “Mitzvah Makers” when I was in the second grade. It was the vision of my classmate Aviva Rosman that our class should do something “good” with our time. Instead of hanging out with only each other after school, shouldn’t we all go hang out with the elderly at the Hebrew Rehab? Aviva was the first person who showed me that social justice work doesn’t have to be an “extra-curricular activity;” that doing good in the world can just be part of the fabric of our every day lives.
This attitude has stayed with me for two decades, and it is part of the reason why I was drawn to working at BINA: The Jewish Movement for Social Change. Based in Tel Aviv, BINA’s mission is quite simple: being a responsible citizen means contributing to the betterment of your society. Being a responsible citizen of Israel, the Jewish state, means using Jewish texts to inform your efforts in social activism. A Mishnaic slogan undergirds BINA’s mission and is graffitied across BINA’s Tel Aviv campus walls: “Gadol Talmud HaMevi L’yadei Maaseh” (“Greatest is the learning that leads to action”).
Growing up in the Rashi community, active in the Reform Movement, and steeped in my family’s Zionism, it wasn’t a far stretch for me to make aliyah and join a movement dedicated to Tikkun Olam. But it was BINA’s commitment to Jewish text study that keeps me committed to this work. As a non-Orthodox Jew and as a woman, I was not invited to undertake yeshiva-style Talmud study. I had to seek it out and – thanks to my Rashi education in Hebrew language and Jewish studies – I was indeed prepared to dive into the Talmud once I realized it was available to me. At BINA’s Secular Yeshiva in Tel Aviv, I learned Torah and Talmud, and most importantly, I learned how to relate these ancient texts to the modern world, and how to use these texts to enrich my social justice work.
I now live in Palo Alto, California and work at the Oshman Family JCC. There, I am building BINA’s first secular yeshiva in America. Palo Alto might be a surprising choice for this work – why would the richest community on the globe be motivated to fix the world around them? Why would progressive Californians be interested in learning antiquated religious texts? On the contrary! There is no community better resourced to help improve the world, and it turns out, entrepreneurial start-up nerds are looking to learn wisdom anywhere they can! When I teach Torah and organize social justice activities in Palo Alto, I find a confirmation of the exact value that brought me to this work: it is only through knowing our tradition that we can be prepared to shape our future.
I am lucky that the Rashi school, my Rashi teachers, and my Rashi classmates showed me that Judaism and social justice can be part of my everyday life. I am grateful to my parents who raised me with Ahavat Torah, Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael – love of Torah, The Jewish People, and the Land of Israel. And I am hopeful that the community I am now building – in my home with my family, and at the Palo Alto JCC, and with BINA worldwide – is going work to keep the world just as good as we found it.
Zoe Jick is the Rashi School’s 2019 Tikkun Alum recipient.