This August I began my fifth (and final) year of rabbinical training at Hebrew Union College Institute of Religion here in Los Angeles. However, unlike in years past, this one is particularly significant for me as I begin my work as Jewish Center for Justice’s new Manager of Jewish Engagement and Advocacy. The people that make up this incredible organization come from a variety of backgrounds, professions and circumstances, yet they all share an incredible passion for pursuing justice and making the world more like we hope it can be. I am grateful for the opportunity to add my voice to these discussions and to act on my Jewish values. Whether it be through conversations with representatives behind the scenes or leading musical chants during protests and rallies, I hope to be an important presence in JCJ’s fight for justice, alongside every one of you.
At times it may feel like convenience is winning out over conscience, that petulance is outweighing principle, that love for our neighbor is being lost in a sea of ruthless self-interest. History tells us that this is not a new scenario. We simply are more aware than ever before of just how much injustice exists in our world. We see it in our social media feeds, on the news, and unfortunately it can spill over into our interactions with those close to us. Though the scores of the headlines we see reveal only the tip of the iceberg, the larger problems we face reside beneath the surface: in our systems of government and in laws that allow injustice to persist even as we seek to self-correct. JCJ’s important work will go a long way toward enlightening the public about how we can act with purpose and secure meaningful reforms that will positively shape the lives of all Americans, regardless of background.
The Torah tells us over and over and over again — 36 times, in fact! — that we must care for the stranger, those who are different from ourselves. We’re also taught, “Justice! Justice you will pursue!” Even as I read these prophetic words, I often feel as if I might succumb to despair. “It’s just so much,” I tell myself, “What can one person really do in the face of all this pain and cruelty?”
It is in those moments that I hearken back to the words of Pirkei Avot ch. 2:21: “It is not upon you to finish the work, but neither are you free to quit it.” So, to the question of “What can I do?” The answer becomes clear: “I’ll do all that I can.” I am excited to continue that work with JCJ, a group that will never shirk its responsibility to persist.
Noah Diamondstein is the Manager of Jewish Engagement and Advocacy at JCJ. He is a fifth year rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College.