BY MAZZI KATZEN
Currently, the world is facing a lot. There are many battles being fought such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the battle against racism through the Black Lives Matter movement.
As a young Jewish woman who attended the Portland Jewish Academy her whole life, I grew up learning about middot (Jewish values). We always learned about them in the context of the times in which they were written. Now I am seeing how these values can and should be applied in current times and within my own life. They can help guide us through life’s most complicated moments.
To help me dive deeper into these ideas, values and how they relate to the present moment, I reached out to Rabbi Ariel Stone of Congregation Shir Tikvah in Portland. Rabbi Stone is a social activist and strong female leader. During a long discussion, she enlightened me about some Jewish principles that can make a huge impact in the world right now.
The first value that we discussed was pikuach nefesh. This value is really an obligation for all Jews. It states that saving a life is the most important thing. Even if you break another mitzvah (law) to do so, saving a life comes before anything else. Currently, so many lives are at higher risk, and it is our job to learn how to make compromises to help others. Something as simple as wearing a mask could be considered a mitzvah, as you are making a simple yet helpful compromise that could save others.
We need to remember that our life does not come before anyone else’s. We are all part of this kehilla (community). Genesis 1:26-28 states that all human beings are made in the image of God, meaning that everyone is created equal. God did not make anyone or any group of humans superior. We are all equally holy in God’s image. When people say “Black Lives Matter,” this is at the heart of that notion. We must always remember that there are no superior beings, and it is our job to fight against any injustice that says otherwise.
The rabbi and I also discussed tikkun olam, the value of repairing the world. This is a key value in Judaism and may seem intimidating. Where do we begin to repair the world with all the hardship and misfortune that it is faced with? Tikkun olam is closely identified with social action. In my own experience, I have used philanthropy and tzedakah as a way of working toward tikkun olam. Through my participation in the Oregon Jewish Community Foundation, I have seen philanthropy make big impacts on my community and the word around me, and it is a great tool that truly can help to repair the world.
Jewish principles teach us that pursuing justice, giving tzedakah and following other mitzvot can lead to piecing the world back together.
How does this relate to current times? Now more than ever the world is in need of repair. It is our duty to follow mitzvot and middot the best we can. We need to help vulnerable populations and stand up against injustices we see in the world. As we reflect on how to navigate through these difficult times, it is essential to embrace our Jewish values, to use those values as a compass and to allow them to guide us toward making the world a better place.
Mazzi Katzen is a junior at Lakeridge High School. She is a member of the OJCYF Leadership Council and served as a 2019-2020 Jewish Teen Funders Network Ambassador.