The question was so simple. “What drives you to do social justice?” But the answer was so complex and varied. The themes were similar: family role models, personal experiences of injustice, a sense of responsibility and moral obligation. But each one of us had a story to tell, a piece to uncover, a truth to reveal. After 15 months of knowing the people in the room with me, I realized that maybe I didn’t really know them that well at all. And all it takes, to really get to know a person, is to ask a simple question and let their story unfold.
I just returned from the Religious Action Center’s Consultation on Conscience. As a 2012-2013 Brickner Rabbinic Fellow, this was the culminating event to months of study, prayer, and exploration on social advocacy, as it pertains to being a rabbi. But it was more than that. It was the culmination of months of being in relationship with a great group that helped me realize what it means to be passionate about social justice, to rely on one another professionally to help better our world, and to live with holy intention in the work that we do.
And yet, there was something so powerful, so organically raw and moving in the room as we closed out our final moments together as a group. Rabbi Steve Fox, Chief Executive of the CCAR, invited us to reflect for a moment. In most cases, you would expect us to reflect back on the last 15 months and the experiences shared in the program. But we didn’t do that. We did something much more sacred, much more meaningful and much more useful. We shared words with one another about our own personal journeys and lives in relation to changing, healing, and helping our broken world. It had all the potential to be go wrong and be self-serving and egotistical. But it wasn’t. It was beautiful. In that moment, our group took the trust that had been building in those 15 months and we unleashed our stories – painful, funny, heartfelt – and we created sacred space to continue connecting our lives with one another.
That moment continued to teach us about social advocacy, about the holiness that comes from hearing and sharing stories and recognizing the beauty of the human spirit and the power of community. Social advocacy is nothing without recognizing that we are all human beings, with complex stories and histories and lives, and that we are all in this world together, trying to create a better world so that all may live with dignity and freedom. But it begins by listening and by sharing.
The question was so very simple. But I am grateful that it was asked. Because with it, I was able to understand what the last 15 months truly were about – making sacred connections so that I can be empowered to continue partnering with God and with my fellow human beings in order to help create a more perfect world through social advocacy, social justice and tikkun olam.
Rabbi Liz Wood is the Associate Rabbi Educator at the Reform Temple of Forest Hills, NY.