Two-Way Street for Shavuot

Lea Andersen
on May 31, 2022

One of the clearest memories in my Jewish education was inspired by my Hillel Rabbi, Ed Rosenthal. A group of us sat together at New College of Florida as Rabbi Ed told us about the moment of the revelation at Mount Sinai, about the fire and smoke and trembling ground. Most importantly, he told us about the call of the shofar. He led us in a meditation to imagine hearing the shofar as more than a natural trumpet — rather, as a call to that first primal moment of revelation when we stood at Sinai as a people to receive the Torah. In that small room, together, we affirmed what it meant to be Jews who have been motivated for millennia by the powerful call to justice. Once again, we renewed our brit, our covenant.

That moment has stuck with me ever since and inspired me through all my experiences witnessing injustice in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, and I am reminded why I do the work that I do. It is not only that we stood at Sinai. I stood at Sinai. It is my responsibility to treat every human being with dignity and respect and with the call to justice, and to speak up when they are not treated well by others.

In recent months, the deaths of Hajj Al-Thaleen and other activists have broken my heart. The continuing oppression of Palestinians living in Sheikh Jarrah worries me. Every time a Palestinian child is taken to an Israeli military prison, I feel sorrow. This is not our way as a People. And it is not my way as a Jew.

Yet, the revelation at Sinai that we celebrate this Shavuot is not the time to chastise ourselves or others for our failures. There we said as a people, “נעשה ונשמע – we will do and we will hear.” In other words, we will continue in an ongoing process to fulfill the moral teachings of Torah, and though we may fail to live according to our highest ethical standards in our initial attempts, we can live more justly and compassionately in the future.

It is not enough that our synagogues, non-profit organizations, and educational institutions take and follow policies according to the highest moral standards. Each of us stood at Sinai. Each of us received the Torah. Each of us is obligated to take the responsibility to live ethically.

J Street, as a Jewish organization with a Progressive moral mission, is committed to supporting justice for both the Palestinian and Israeli peoples. We strive to live up to the covenant our people made at Sinai — to act justly and with kindness towards all human beings.

In the Pirkei Avot (2:16), “Rabbi Tarfon said: “It is not upon you to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” As we learn Torah this year, let the aspirational charge of tradition inspire us toward a more just future. We might not personally or communally witness the completion of this difficult work, but we must not stop, because people are depending on us to continue to advocate on their behalf.

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