What A Puppy Taught Me About Tikkun Olam

Little things count, too

In August, I had the opportunity to volunteer at a local animal shelter. Upon arrival at the shelter, members of the Tikkun Olam Committee at my synagogue were tasked with bathing nine puppies. As soon as we got them out of their cage and in the water, it was a day at the spa. All they wanted was a little TLC. After playing in the water a bit, we wrapped them in towels and held them. Their adorable faces leaned back, attempting to lick whoever was closest to them and soak up the joy.

This was a fun, emotionally difficult, and profoundly rewarding experience. (In no small part because soon after beginning my work in Jackson, Mississippi, I adopted a shelter puppy myself.) As the Chair of the Tikkun Olam Committee, I am trying something new this year. Each month we will have a different volunteer opportunity for congregants to participate in. During the preceding month, religious school students will target their tzedakah towards the selected cause by dropping off donations at the permanent donation station at the temple. The donation station is located outside the sanctuary, so any individuals can leave donations that will be brought to the volunteer opportunity at the end of the month.

In God’s To-Do List, author Ron Wolfson lists 103 things each of us can do to engage in Tikkun Olam. Many of them are incredibly simple, great for people of all ages, and are excellent ways to prepare for high holidays. The Jewish Social Justice Book Club at my congregation recently read this, and some of the discussion was on the idea of intentionality. People want to do good in the world but without a plan, process, or support desires often get stalled transitioning to action. Once the intention is incorporated and people take action, the impact on the recipients and volunteers can propel them to help out again in the future.

When it comes to organizing service, I sometimes feel like a circus performer who is balancing ten plates on sticks a yard-long while running around the ring. I need to keep people in the loop about opportunities they care about, give them enough information that they understand what is going on but not too much that they tune out or turn off, and remind them far enough in advance that they can incorporate it into their calendar and remind them close enough to the event that they don’t forget. I also need to stay in contact with the external partner and try to provide them as much information about who will show up as possible.

This process can feel overwhelming at times but I have found that the best way to manage it is to go back to the discussion during the book club and focus on intentionality. I am working hard to establish routines such as linking tzedakah to the event over the course of an entire month, sending out communications on a standardized schedule, and thinking ahead about how donations can be managed.

Being a productive member of the community is extremely important to Beth Israel, me, and our Judaic traditions. When I get bogged down by the minutiae, I try to step back and think about the sweet kisses from the adorable puppy who just wanted to be loved. In that moment, I was doing something good; I felt it, and it made the world better for that puppy.

Sometimes that’s what we have to remember – the work is great and unending, but small moments can make all the difference.

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Tikkun Olam

In contemporary Jewish thought.