Warned me about this in Hebrew School sign

They Warned Me About This in Hebrew School

If my Facebook feed is any indication, there’s quite a bit of discontent these days with many recent political decisions. And rather than a passive response, there’s a lot of action.

I was particularly struck by the number of participants in the Women’s Marches that took place around the world. While I couldn’t be there, it was great to see from afar the energy and commitment of so many who care about women’s rights and human rights. I enjoyed seeing the creative signs that people made for the occasion. One of my favorites said, “it’s so bad, even introverts are here!”

I also really appreciated the signs I saw at various marches and rallies that said something along the lines of, “they warned me about this in Hebrew School.” As someone who has been a Jewish educator for two decades, I was struck by (and felt pride in) this sign.

It reminded me of so much we teach from Jewish tradition:

That study leads to action. A debate raged in the Talmud about the importance of study versus the importance of action. Rabbi Akiva concluded that study is important because it leads to action, and that’s the first thing that came to mind when I saw the sign. We learn, we teach, we explore our human values through a Jewish lens, so that we can act when action is needed.

That we can pray with our feet. When Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights movement, Heschel later said that he felt he was praying with his feet. This we can continue to do today as well. Praying, thinking, forming opinions, hoping – all are important and valuable. But, sometimes getting out there and doing something is required. And, so, we can pray with our feet.

That we don’t have to complete the task, nor are we free to desist from it. This is an often-quoted line from Pirke Avot, a compilation of ethical teachings. The rabbis made clear that we can’t solve everything, and we may only feel like one small voice at times, and yet we have a responsibility to keep on keeping on. When we learn this in Hebrew school, it does indeed prepare us for times when we need to step in and do our part to make the world a better place.

At times when activism is needed, Jewish tradition has prepared us well indeed.

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