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‘Tikkun Olam’ in the time of COVID-19
This holiday season, let us rededicate ourselves to healing our communities.
Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah.
This Hanukkah will be a little different from other years. All of our holidays will.
Like most wintertime celebrations, the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah is about family gatherings, warm embraces, and shared meals.
Not so much in 2020. Many of us have lost loved ones to COVID-19; others have lost jobs and are struggling to pay the rent; some have lost hope; we’re all stuck at home.
When I was reflecting on the end of this difficult year coming to a close, I found myself coming back to the same idea -- the core tenet of Hanukkah: perseverance.
In Judaism, we’re told that our most urgent calling in this life is to serve – that each of us is obligated to do everything in our power to right wrongs and heal the world, or, Tikkun Olam.
It’s a pretty tall order. And I’m the first to admit that healing the world often falls to the bottom of the list when you have family obligations, work to take care of, and dishes to wash.
But Hanukkah gives us a chance to re-center. To ground ourselves in the lessons of the Torah, which reminds us of the enduring story of resilience and optimism.
More than 2,000 years ago, a tyrant forbade the Israelites from practicing their religion and his forces destroyed the Holy Temple.
Led by Judah Maccabee, a small band of believers came together to fight this oppression, and against all odds, they prevailed. When they journeyed to reclaim their Temple, the Israelites received another gift from God -- the oil that should have lasted only one night burned for eight.
That miraculous flame brought hope, sustained the faithful, and healed the community from the scars of cruelty and hardship.
To this day, Jews around the world honor the Maccabees' dedication to building a world in which good can overcome evil, no matter the odds.
In this moment of darkness, when it’s easy to forget that there was ever light -- we have to remember that we draw strength from each other, have obligations to one another, and are better together than we are apart.
I am inspired by the small groups of people in my own city who have stepped up to serve their communities, a constant reminder that while we are physically isolated, we are not alone.
In Los Angeles, our community has come out in droves to deliver food to our homeless neighbors, support mutual aid efforts, and organize tenants. A movement of community fridges has sprouted across Los Angeles, with local residents and small business owners generously offering their electricity and storefronts or homes as locations for free food storage and distribution. Angelenos have stood and marched in protest against the brutal treatment of our Black and Brown community members by law enforcement, and to demand accountability for police violence.
At our core, we understand that our humanity is inextricably tied to our neighbors’.
I will spend the eight days of Hanukkah in a period of reflection, as I often do, but this time, contemplating the acts of courage and generosity I’ve witnessed this year, and creating my own plan to better serve my community.
If you have the space in your own life, please join me in discussing with family, friends, and co-workers what we might do in the upcoming year to rededicate ourselves to service.
Some may lack the financial means to donate money. COVID-19 risk may prevent our elders and immuno-compromised neighbors from in-person volunteering. And some may have run out of emotional bandwidth for anything other than survival. All of that is totally understandable. There are so many ways for us to raise each other up, even just extending a moment of kindness to a stranger.
If your circumstances allow, please join me in supporting non-profit organizations that uplift, serve, and empower our community, such as Lideres Campesinas or the Greater Los Angeles Hospital Registry: both farmworkers and healthcare professionals practice Tikkun Olam every day, healing and feeding the country at their own risk. It is an honor to support them.
Or, consider getting involved with mutual aid organizations that have stepped in to address the immediate needs of our most vulnerable Angelenos and unhoused neighbors who have borne the brunt of this crisis, such as Streetwatch LA or Polo’s Pantry. Here are some other worthy organizations to which you might consider donating money, time, or talent:
This holiday season, let us remember that the whole is greater than the sum of our parts. We still have a long way to go. But if we’ve learned anything from 2020, it’s that our survival depends on our commitment to one another.