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Jewish Approaches to Justice

Shevat/January-February 2017 Resources for Groups

The approaching month of Shevat, especially for North American Jews, is all about celebrating the beginnings of spring even as we still see and feel winter around us—warming our hearts, even as the earth is still frozen. It is in this spirit that we write to you, during this time of transition in country, and in the days following Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the weeks leading to Black History Month, to provide you with additional materials for possible use in upcoming group gatherings.

We know that participants in our groups come from families with a range of political opinions and a range of approaches to activism and civic participation and we honor that diversity. We want to support you in creating spaces where your group participants can openly and constructively explore what this moment means to them and what values they want to draw upon in response.

We suggest that you consider opening your discussion with the following excerpt from Martin Luther King Jr.’s Mountaintop speech, delivered in Memphis on April 3, 1968, the day before he was killed:

…Trouble is in the land; confusion all around…I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men, in some strange way, are responding… And another reason that I’m happy to live in this period is that we have been forced to a point where we are going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demands didn’t force them to do it…

Questions to Explore:

  1. How might King’s words apply to the 21st century and more specifically to this moment in the United States and the world?
  2. King spoke about men responding and grappling with problems that have persistent throughout history. What problems was he referring to?
  3. Today, we see people of all genders also leading the way in grappling with societal problems and responding with ideas, creativity and action. What problems do you feel compelled to grapple with? What “demands” currently motivate you to take action in your community, nationally, or in the world? What is keeping you—or has kept you—from taking action or speaking out?
  4. Read the following (or print on small cards for participants to read) and discuss.

King said “only when it is dark enough can we see the stars.” Jews celebrate Rosh Hodesh at the moment in the moon’s cycle when the sky is darkest and we can see the stars most clearly. Out of this darkness a new month begins; the light follows.

Jews have a long history of involvement in social justice activism, working to bring forth more light into the world. At times we have suffered injustice and now, even as anti-Semitism is becoming more evident, many of us also benefit from privilege due to the color of our skin or our socio-economic status.

How does it feel to you to be Jewish right now? As a Jew, do you feel you have a particular responsibility to work for justice? For other Jews? For all people?

We recommend the following resource created by Jewish Funds for Justice, now Bend the Arc, to explore possible answers to the question: “What’s Jewish about justice?” As your group explores the cards, discuss what answers resonate most and if any new answers need to be added.

“What’s Jewish About Justice?” Signs

We hope that you find these materials useful and relevant to your work with your groups. We’d love to know if you do end up using any of this and how it goes. Share your feedback with Jen Anolik at janolik@movingtraditions.org.

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