Justice, Justice Shall You Pursue



The Journal of Youth Engagement checks in with Benjamin Singer, who shared his secret for engaging young people in synagogue life: Torah. The article “How to Get Youth Into Your Synagogue” originally appeared in the Journal of Youth Engagement in August 2014. 

In your original article, you cited the central role of Torah in guiding your work with Common Cause of Illinois. What have you been up to since then?

As you read, I’ve long felt that big money in politics corrupts our government, and stands in the way of enacting just policies–whether on taxes, the environment, health care, or foreign policy. I’m now the Campaign Manager of MAYDAY.US. We’re a bipartisan organization supporting candidates for Congress who want to reform the way we fund our elections, in order to empower working Americans. To sloganize it, we are a “SuperPAC to end all SuperPACs.”

When we last checked in, you articulated some big questions for our community of adults working with youth: How do we get millennials to go to Hebrew school? Or go to Hillel in college? Or join a synagogue after graduation.  

Your answer was simple: Torah. Can you share an example of how Torah has guided your justice work in the past year?

We must hear the small just as the great, as we read in D’varim. Following through on those values, I felt a need to help fix our political system because it’s become ruled by big money, instead of by every person’s voice.

And as stated by a group of rabbis in Chicago before the recent election, “A fundamental principle of Judaism is hakras hatov–recognizing benefits afforded us and giving expression to our appreciation. Therefore, it is incumbent upon each Jewish citizen to participate in the democratic system which guards the freedom we enjoy. The most fundamental responsibility incumbent on each individual is to…vote.”

So I wanted to be part of this change by actually participating in our democracy. We are a citizens’ movement in every sense of the word. People-powered, people-run, and strategically focused to pursue justice.

You identified as a Jewish young person upset by injustice. What advice do you have for others who identify this way?

Great question. I say look to the root cause of the injustice. Not “how can I give that hungry person food?” but instead, “Why does that hungry person not have food?” I think it’s important to think strategically about what is standing in the way, and seek out the most effective way to create that justice sustainably. Remember, we don’t just say “justice shall you pursue.” The rabbis teach that we say the word “justice” twice to emphasize the importance of just systems in order to achieve just outcomes.

Where can we go if we want to learn more about your work, or find opportunities for tikkun olam in our own communities? 

If young people are disillusioned by the political process, it’s for good reason. Luckily, we can be part of disrupting it and making it what it should be, with some fundamental change. Right now we already have 148 allies in Congress, and growing. As I said, we are a citizens’ movement: people-powered and strategically focused to pursue justice. If you want to fix the issue that’s at the root of all other issues, it’s time to start doing something about it. Sign up to be part of the movement at http://MAYDAY.US

 

Looking for additional resources to pursue justice? Check out these resources from the Reform Movement.

Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism – Advocacy & Activism, Teen Seminars, and College Internships

Mitzvah Corps – Hands-on Social Justice Service Programs for Teens

ReformJudaism.org – Resources and Jewish perspectives on issues of justice

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