Shabbat Shalom from our nation’s capital!
This has been a fun, engaging, and meaningful week for the 28 Mitzvah Corps DC participants, full of learning, action, and engagement with how our Jewish values come to bear on the most significant issues of our time. We all came to DC united by the same belief, that the world as it is is not the world that it should be. That where there is brokenness, where there is racism, poverty, violence, or any other kind of oppression, there should be freedom, peace, equity, and liberation. As Jews, we demand that the world as it is get ever close to the world as it should be, and we know it is our work to build this more just world.
And this is exactly the work we have been doing this past week. We began the program at the Washington Monument, where we ascended its over 50 stories to see a beautiful view of the capital. There, it was easy to imagine the world as it should be, a vision of hope and justice that grounded us as we began to examine the harder realities of this city and our country. The next day, we began to explore the world as it is. We did a walking tour of the Shaw neighborhood, whose residents are being displaced by local economic development. We then learned about our country’s social safety net, understanding its inadequacies and how difficult it is to access benefits, and about our criminal justice system, which is in need of reform so that it actually respects human dignity and treats people fairly. We had the chance to dig more deeply into reproductive rights, gun violence, climate change, and LGBTQA justice as well.
But we are not only learning about the problems; we are getting involved in solutions. We spent one morning at DC Central Kitchen, an organization that prepares and distributes food to hundreds of people in need. We went to Capitol Hill and demanded that our elected representatives take action on the issues that matter to us most, everything from environmental justice to racism to reproductive rights. And with this new learning and these new skills, we are ready to challenge our home communities to take action for justice as well.
In Balak, this week’s parsha, Balak, the King of Moav, summons his prophet, Balaam, to curse the people of Israel. Though Balaam intends to curse Israel, each of the three times he tries to do so, blessings issue forth from his mouth instead. In Talmud Sanhedrin 105b, Rabbi Yochanan says that when we hear each of Balaam’s blessings, we can understand the intended curse embedded within it. When Balaam said “How goodly are your tents, O Jacob (Mah Tovu Ohalecha Yaakov, words we say each morning in prayer)”, he actually wanted to curse the Jewish people that they should have no houses of prayer or houses of study, and that the Divine Presence should not dwell among them.
Our political life is similar: with every blessing, we can see the curse. With each political challenge, we can see an opportunity for growth and change. For every issue we care about, we can see a path of despair and critique or one of hope and action. We know it is easier to be bogged down in the challenges or to give up hope for change, but that’s not who we are at Mitzvah Corps DC. Everywhere we go, our work has and will continue to be bridging the gap between the world as it is and the world as it should be.
Mimi, Madeline, and Yair
Mitzvah Corps DC 2016 Program Staff