These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem


Posted on November 23, 2011 by Lauren Schuchart

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“Sleep less, do more…and have the courage to fail.”

-Rabbi Levi Lauer

Every Tuesday at Pardes, we have a school-wide learning session, where a faculty member or guest lecturer speaks about a “critical issue” facing the community.

Last week, we heard from Rabbi Levi Lauer, a past dean of Pardes and the current executive director and founder of ATZUM, a social action organization in Israel.

The organization was founded in 2002 “to remedy injustices in Israeli society, and encourage individuals to become social activists and agents of change.” The main issues that the organization currently focuses on are:

  • Confronting and eradicating human trafficking in Israel.
  • Providing support for terror attack victims, and their families. 
  • Improving the lives of “righteous gentiles” (non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust) living in Israel.
  • Empowering the youth of the Ethiopian community in Israel.

Relating his discussion to our studies at Pardes, Rabbi Lauer emphasized the importance of studying text and grappling with the important questions that it demands of us. What does social justice really mean? What does it mean to be a good person? Why is there so much suffering in the world? What can (and what should) we do about it?

On the other hand, he suggested that maybe we are preoccupied with words, and it moves us away from the “pain of the streets.” In other words, we shouldn’t just study, we should go out and do. We shouldn’t just learn what it means to be a good person, we should take action and put our values into practice.

The “pain of the streets.” This phrase in particular really spoke to me.

I am often overwhelmed by the suffering and injustices of the world, yet I somehow find myself drawn to them. When I watch the news, I feel empathetic to the point of taking others’ pain on as my own pain, to the point that the story stays on my mind much longer than it should. My mom sometimes makes fun of me for reading socially-just books “just for fun” (you mean to tell me that “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” isn’t a beach read?).

In all seriousness, I find myself paralyzed with what my role is, so much so that I often end up doing nothing. I used to think that this slightly-neurotic mindset was a curse, but Rabbi Lauer’s lecture today made me feel that it’s actually the opposite: “we were not created to be ambivalent, we were created to make a difference.”

Rabbi Lauer ended with a brief story, highlighting the importance of helping ONE individual:

Yitzhak is boy whose father was killed in a suicide bombing attack on an Israeli bus. Yitzhak was on the bus as well. He survived, but not un-scarred. Since the attack, Yitzhak has not been able to set foot on a bus. Because of all the medical bills, his family doesn’t have very much money, and can’t afford a car. Since his family lives below the poverty line, the government provides a little assistance (including bus tickets), but this still isn’t able to get Yitzhak to school.

At this point in the story, Rabbi Lauer paused, almost at a loss of what to say next. I could see in his eyes, and hear in his voice, the passion and the pain that comes with doing social justice work. 

“We were created in order to get Yitzhak to school. That’s why this state was created. We have to get him to school.”

We were created to care, to act, and to alleviate the pain of others. Thank you, Rabbi Lauer, for the much-needed reminder.

*The quotes on this page were as I wrote them down,
but they might have slight inaccuracies.