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Oct 1 2013

Let’s Talk About Tikkun Olam, Y’all

By at 9:51 am

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With the exception of the occasional “y’all” that always elicits a chuckle, I think I have shed most of my Texan idiosyncrasies since I have been on the East Coast for over a decade now.

I do still cling to the music though, and once I drop my kids off at daycare in the morning I blast my country music until the windows rattle. To me, country music is about real life, love and loss, patriotism and simple pleasures. There are sagas of cheating lovers, brawls in honky-tonks, and heroic tales of our soldiers. Country music is my escape. One song will make me laugh out loud while the next will bring tears to my eyes. That’s country and I love it.

Country music is also filled with references to God and while the lyrics sometimes clash with my Jewish perspective, I appreciate the faith of the artists and the reminder that despite my hardships, there is a Greater Being looking out for the ones I love. But sometimes I hear a line from a song and I think to myself… hold up, that is definitely not Jewish. That was my reaction to a song I heard for the first time the other day as I was driving to work.

To paraphrase, the singer said something like “I can’t change the world so let the powers that be fuss and fight.” I listened to the whole song and tried to restrain myself, but I could not help complaining out loud that this is a terrible message. Of course you can change the world! We all have the power to initiate change, for tikkun olam, repairing the world.

To his credit, the singer goes on to say that while he cannot stop the wars and chaos all around, he can change the world for the woman he loves. I see his point as a parent who would do anything for our children to make their lives brighter. And I witness the power individuals have every day at the school where I am employed. The faculty, composed of individuals from many different religions, nationalities, ethnic groups and backgrounds are teachers simply because they believe that we can make a difference.

I faced many challenges growing up a Jew in Texas, but I am the proud Jew I am today because of my battle scars and the countless summers I spent learning about my heritage at Greene Family Camp in Bruceville, Texas. Ani ve’ata neshaneh et ha’olam–”You and I will change the world,” are the words we sang on Shabbat. Together, there is nothing you and I can’t do. I find it frustrating that an artist with an enormous audience and the power to inspire would say anything contrary to this core value.

As Jews, we are commanded to do mitzvot (good deeds) and to bring light into the world by helping others. Mitzvah goreret mitzvah, averah goreret averah we sang at the top of our lungs, as we danced and celebrated in our camp community. One good deed will bring another good deed. These were the messages we learned early in life. When Abraham destroyed his father’s idols he changed the world. When Moses freed the slaves in Egypt, he changed the world. Einstein, Herzl, Ginsburg, and Zuckerberg are just a few examples of Jews who have had a hand in changing our world for the better.

And of course, changing the world is not just a Jewish value. Recently I had the opportunity to participate in a faculty workshop focused on diversity and improving the overall environment of our school so all students, parents and staff feel welcome despite their background. It was truly an honor to hear Dr. Steven Jones, a diversity consultant speak about the changing demographics of our country and the need to keep up with the fast-changing, multi-cultural world. Often incorporating humor and his own personal experiences as an African American living in the South, Dr. Jones spoke of the need to lean in to discomfort and not be afraid to ask difficult questions so we can learn from each other instead of making incorrect assumptions or ignorant mistakes. Dr. Jones travels the country educating others on tolerance and acceptance. Dr. Jones is changing the world.

We can choose to throw up our hands in defeat and pin the problems of our world on others to fix. We can wait for God to possibly intervene. As a mother of young children and a part-time Jewish educator, I prefer to sing a song of optimism instead and adhere to the lessons I was taught as a young camper in a small Texas town.

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