Tikkun Olam: Youth Experiences at TBE by Sam Swire, Director of Youth Engagement

In this week’s Torah portion Va’etchanan, Moses tells the Israelites that he will not be joining them in crossing the Jordan River into the land of Canaan.  He summarizes the events that led up to this moment including the exodus from Egypt, the revelation of the Ten Commandments, and the B’rit or covenant between God and the Israelites. For the Israelites there is a matter of 40 years wandering in the desert separating receiving the 10 Commandments and this moment near the banks of the Jordan River.  For us reading this, it has only been a matter of weeks, so we can immediately recognize the fact that this story Moses is sharing with the Israelites was just told to us.  Year after year same portion is repeated, relatively close to this same point in the year.

Like the yearly Torah cycle, our lives move through cycles: The sun sets and rises; the days of the week; the seasons of the year.  All of these are driven by natural occurrences in the world around us.  Our faith celebrates these cycles with blessings and festivals.  As our summer wraps up and we begin to look forward into the school year, we at Temple Beth El are abundantly aware of a few things that are about to re-start in their cycles: The High Holy Days, Religious School and Youth Programming.

Last year being my first year in Charlotte and at TBE, everything was new.  The first big assignment I had was organizing the High Holy Days food drive for Second Harvest Food Bank.  The food drive was the first teen program I was going to run at TBE and because I was so focused on the logistics of making sure everything happened according to plan that I found I wasn’t able to stop and think about how meaningful it was to start the year with such a significant tzedakah project

Through this food drive, the teens start their year with an act of Tikkun Olam, or fixing the world.  This tradition helps to frame the entire year in whatever way is meaningful to them.  For our teens, helping to gather food as one of our opening events establishes the importance of Tikkun Olam as an important value for Jews.  In all of our offerings at TBE we strive to give teens a place to incorporate Judaism into their lives.  With options ranging from serving as a madrich or madricha in religious school, to attending Hebrew High, or any of our more social K-12 youth group options, Tikkun Olam continues to appear as a thread throughout the Youth experience at TBE.

This continued focus on Tikkun Olam, just like the repetition of stories in our Torah and cycles of our calendar, highlights its importance.  We are compelled 36 times in the Torah to remember that “we were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Our history of oppression in Egypt frames the basis for why we help others through Tikkun Olam because we have the historic understanding of being in need.  We recognize when others are in similar situations and that we are obliged to help them.

As tradition repeats itself, our teens will be running a food drive during our High Holy Day services again this year, and we hope everyone will be involved.  If you are a teen, make sure you sign up to help out.  TBE members of all ages can bring in food during Yom Kippur Early and Late services.  I especially encourage families with younger children to have your kids help in the food collection for your family. Let them make some of the decisions about what your family will be donating to help others.  This may be their first experience with Social Action but I can definitely assure you that it will not be their last at TBE.