Tikkun Olam

By: Lindsay Tarnoff

This past Sunday, I spent much of my day at Temple Habonim. Since I teach there a couple times a week – and I grew up there – my time there on a Sunday is not all that unusual. This Sunday was unique, however, because it was a Religious School Mitzvah Day. Families with kids of all ages spread out around Rhode Island and some of Massachusetts to volunteer with various nonprofit organizations in the area.

Tikkun olam, often translated from Hebrew as “repairing, or healing, the world,” is an important facet of Judaism. Moreover, for me, it has been one of the key ways that I connect to Judaism as well as to others.

I grew up in Barrington, RI, and had my Bat Mitzvah at Temple Habonim about 15 years before I started working there. My tenure as a religious school teacher began only a few months before I started my current part-time job at “Youth In Action.” I fell into both of these jobs but soon realized that the reason they were such a good fit for me was because both jobs were focused around tikkun olam, healing the world.

At both “Youth In Action” and my work with Temple Habonim, the high school students that I work with are involved for a variety of reasons: it gives them a safe place to be after school, it looks good on a college resume, it gives them volunteer hours, or it’s where they learn critical college and career readiness skills. Regardless of the reason, the common thread that keeps everyone together is their passion for making a difference in their community. They want to leave the world a better place than it was when they entered it. And as they go out to help the community, I can see, even in small ways, how they are growing and developing as young adults.

According to Wikipedia, the direct translation of tikkun olam in Jewish prayeris actually somewhat confusing. However, the essence of tikkun olam, or repairing the world, is found throughout Jewish texts. For example, in Siddur Sim Shalom, we read, “may citizens of all races and creeds forge a common bond in true harmony to banish all hatred and bigotry…uniting all people in peace and freedom…nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they experience war anymore.” Does my innate desire to help those in need and my eagerness for making a positive difference in the world come from Judaism? Is it inherent or learned from all my years attending religious school? Or maybe a little of both?

Last Sunday, when I saw all of the families filing back into the temple for a shared lunch after their morning of volunteering, my heart was filled with warmth. They had helped make a difference in their local communities and felt more connected to each other, to the community and maybe even to Judaism. I was honored that I could be even a small part of this tikkun olam, and I knew that it would be a tradition that would be continued.

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