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October 9, 2015 | 26th Tishrei 5776

Social Action and the Jewish Classroom - No III, 5764

Social Action and the Jewish Classroom
No III, 5764


Al sh'loshah d'varim haolam omed:
Al haTorah, v'al ha-avodah, v'al g'milut chasadim.

The world depends on three things:
on Torah, on worship and on loving deeds.
- Pirkei Avot 1:2

This year each issue of V'shinantam will be dedicated to a specific aspect of building classroom community. Our operating enduring understanding is that building classroom community creates opportunities for educational success. Each issue will be written with input from another department at the Union for Reform Judaism.

V'shinantam is organized around the three pillars of Torah , Avodah , and G'milut Chasadim . We interpret each heading to focus on a different aspect of our work. Under the heading Torah, signifying the mind, you will find a teaching from our tradition; under Avodah (heart), a context to give us the proper intention for our work; and under G'milut Chasadim (hands), practical ideas for implementation.


Integrating the Third Pillar

As the organization of this newsletter suggests, there are three central aspects of our Jewish lives: Torah, avodah and g’milut chasadim . The three pillars are intertwined, one wrapped around the next.

Ideally, social justice and social action grow out of and lead into study and prayer. Evely Laser Shlensky, former chair of the Commission on Social Action (a joint commission of the Union and the CCAR), envisions synagogues and schools where “Torah lishma (study for its own sake) is not the goal of study. Rather, the study of Torah leads from the classroom to the streets, the shelters, and the public square.” It is our hope that educators across North America will help their students make this fundamental connection between Torah and justice.

How can we help students of all ages understand the centrality of justice within Jewish tradition? Incorporate the study of Jewish texts and values into broader discussions about social action. For example, when your synagogue sends representatives to a rally for workers’ rights, discuss the values behind the words in Deuteronomy, “You shall not abuse a needy and destitute laborer, whether a fellow countryman or a stranger in one of the communities of your land. You must pay him his wages on the same day, before the sun sets, for he is needy and sets his life on it; else he will cry to God against you and you will incur guilt” (24:12-15).

Seize moments of social action to remind students that tzedek is an essential element of Judaism. Teach them that they are obligated to weave g’milut chasadim into the fabric of their lives.

Deena Fox
Legislative Assistant, Commission on Social Action

For more resources, go to and click on any of the links under “Social Action.”



We are taught that the concept of tzedek --justice means to follow God’s example and work toward creating a world where we treat each other with respect and kindness—to establish just societies with just rules and to live according to the mitzvot. We are to do what is right even when it is difficult.

Sing out for Justice is a recording made at the 1997 Biennial in Dallas, Texas. For more information, go to This music inspires us with the proper intention and motivates us to pursue justice. Below are the words from a song by Craig Taubman.

Piece of the Puzzle

Look at yourself as a piece of the puzzle
Look at yourself as one link in the chain
Look at yourself as one page of the story
Look at yourself as one moment in time

B’chol dor v’dor – In every generation
B’chol dor v’dor – All people and every nation
If not now, then when, and if not me, then who?
Look at yourself leaving Mitzrayim
Look at yourself as if you crossed the sea
Look at yourself as Deborah or Aaron
Look at yourself and the things that you can be

I am the link, I hold the piece
I am the page, it is my history

Using this music in class is one way to begin to motivate students with the proper intention for social action. However, the most powerful inspiration may be a teacher who serves as a role model. Below are opportunities for you to become involved in a meaningful social action experience. Try one or more and share your experience with your students.

    Open to members of Reform congregations, participants will spend the week of August 15-21, 2004 building a home in Orange County California in partnership with Habitat for Humanity. Each workday will begin with worship and with study. Local Reform congregations will support the project by providing meals, volunteers and Shabbat worship.
    For more information:

    Through this new Presidential Initiative, the Union will send you a one-page e-mail each day on a topic of Jewish interest. Tuesdays are devoted to the topic of social action. Over the next several weeks, subscribers to 10 Minutes of Torah will review the resolutions adopted at the 67th Biennial Convention and consider Jewish texts and values that underlie each one.
    For more information and to subscribe:


The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC) has been the hub of Jewish social justice and legislative activity in the nation’s capital for over forty years.

Not only is the RAC a place where you can go to learn about legislative information and advocacy, but it is also a source for social action programming, a provider of information about upcoming conferences and activities, and a resource for background information including the Jewish perspective on about seventy-five key issues.

The RAC has established an automated list-serv, which will deliver Chai IMPACT Action Alerts, the RAC’s Weekly Legislative Update, all RAC press statements, program announcements, web updates, and other timely information to anyone with an e-mail address. Sign up on the RAC website.

According to Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center, a successful social action program has four necessary components:

  • Worship
  • Learning
  • Advocacy
  • Doing

Consider using this format when creating social action opportunities for your class or seeking them out for yourself.



The Torah begins with God making garments for Adam and Eve and ends with God burying Moses, two acts of g’milut chasadim. Performing acts of loving kindness is a way for humans to genuinely imitate God.

The CHAI: Learning For Jewish Life curriculum contains 9 lessons in each level in the area of g’milut chasadim . For a chart of lesson titles, go to Volume 2 of the Jewish Family Education books, Jewish Living , contains three lessons on g’milut chasadim , including a format for providing the Jewish context for a social action activity.

Also from the URJ PRESS

To Learn Is To Do: A Tikkun Olam Road Map by Sharon Halper
Designed for grade 5-6, this is a text-based study of tikkun olam . Students are introduced to Hebrew key words, roots, and phrases related to tikkun olam and organizations that do social action.

Jewish Dimensions of Social Justice by Al Vorspan and David Saperstein
This book explores issues and social justice texts for adults and teens.

Social Action Opportunities for Your Class

“Ner Shel Tzedakah”–A Special Program for the 6th Night of Chanukah
One in ten American families lives in poverty. In order to alleviate the suffering of the poor this winter, the Union for Reform Judaism has joined with the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism to encourage individuals, families and congregations to devote the sixth night of Chanukah to learning about the problem of poverty. As they light the “Ner Shel Tzedakah” we hope they will donate the value of the gifts (or the gifts themselves) that they would otherwise exchange on that night to organizations that assist the poor.

For more information, go to the Jewish Council for Public Affairs website at, or contact Deena Fox at

Rashi Chanukah Tamhui Program
A Social Action Project of the Rashi School in MA

"So too, collectors are appointed who fetch bread and foodstuffs from every courtyard as well as fruit products or money, from anyone who donates for the needs of the moment. They distribute the collections among the poor. . . this is what is called the tamhui. " --Maimonides, Yad, Gifts to the Poor, 9.2
As Jews, it is our responsibility for each and every one of us – no matter what our personal finances – to give to the Tamhui , the collective pot of funds. Students collect funds, learn about and explain the work of the organizations studied and, through the use of chips, vote to determine the amount of the tzedakah money that will be distributed to each organization. Many times, opportunities to volunteer or collect materials for these organizations become apparent and students and families can continue to make a difference. Consider adapting this program for your class or school. For more information, contact Stephanie Rotsky, Rashi School Social Justice Project,

Caring for the Earth at Kibbutz Lotan
Everything ultimately belongs to God; we are the caretakers: “The earth is the Lord’s and all it holds, the world and its inhabitants.” Psalms 24:1
Did you know that there is a Reform Kibbutz where you can help those on the kibbutz fulfill the mission of the biblical ideal of tilling the earth and preserving it? Plant trees here or learn more about special garden projects. You can even adopt a cow! Visit the kibbutz website with your class to learn about all they are doing to fulfill the mitzvot of protecting the earth ( shomer adamah ) and preserving resources ( bal tashchit ).

ZIV Tzedakah Fund and the Giraffe Curriculum
Learn about giraffe heroes, ordinary people who stuck their neck out to make a difference. Support the work of these people through tzedakah and empower students to make a difference themselves.

For more opportunities , visit these three important websites connecting Jewish learning and Jewish living:

1. – Connects users with a wide range of organizations, provides opportunities for online tzedakah and contains many educational pieces on tzedakah
2. – a webzine focusing on Jewish social action
3. – locate volunteer opportunities by zip code

Let’s make our classrooms a place of learning and doing!

Do you have a unique or especially successful experience integrating social action or social justice into your classroom curriculum? Send an e-mail to: Irene Bolton, and put “ V’shinantam ” in the subject line. We’ll post some of your ideas online!

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