A few nights ago, I saw a moving film at the Israeli film festival titled “No Longer Strangers.” It was a story about a school in Tel Aviv that has children from 48 countries, many refugees. It was a story about love, compassion and dedication of the teachers. It was also a story about social justice. The secular teachers were simply following basic Jewish values and doing “tikkun olam” — repairing the world. As the principal stated, “As a Jew, we do not have a choice, we have an obligation and, even more so, given our history.”
On the same day, I visited the Museum of Tolerance, a project of the Simon Weisenthal Center. Again, a project inspired by Jewish values. The museum is dedicated to educating people on tolerance, accepting differences and removing prejudice and bigotry from this world. Another institution dedicated to the value of repairing the world.
It is important for me to understand this value. The expression “tikkun olam” is used in the Mishnah in the phrase “mip’nei tikkun ha-olam” (“for the sake of tikkun of the world”) to indicate that a practice should be followed not because it is required by Biblical law, but because it helps avoid social chaos. The phrase “tikkun olam” is included in the Aleinu, the Jewish prayer that is recited three times daily. The Aleinu, said to have been written by Joshua, praises God for allowing the Jewish people to serve God, and expresses hope that the whole world one day will recognize God and abandon idolatry. The phrase “tikkun olam” is used in the longer expression “l’takken olam b’malkhut Shaddai,” “to perfect the world under God’s sovereignty.”
I was so moved by the movie yet I feel so empty when I think about my community. As someone who did not grow up observant, I was inspired by the Jewish value system and spent a great deal of time defining who I am and the world I want to live in. Since we started our quest to have our (then) two-year-old special needs child to be included in a Jewish day school 18 months ago, I have repeatedly questioned my world.
The Jewish world I live in is dominated by money, politics and power games. So many Rabbis and community leaders have agreed that excluding a Down syndrome child from a Jewish school is wrong. Yet no one takes a stand. In fact, the leadership on this issue is noticeably absent. No social justice, no “tikkun olam” in Manhattan for Caily and other special needs kids in our community.
What kind of world are our children being educated in? At least Torah values do exist in this world, even if it’s in a poor school, in a poor neighborhood, with teachers who are role models of Jewish values — just in Tel Aviv
Originally published: May 18, 2011