What is Jewish Activism? (1/3)

Hi, I’m Izzy! I’m a third-year college student currently interning for Bend The Arc’s Southern California Chapter. I’ve interned with organizations that work to achieve social justice before, but none have impacted me the way that interning with Bend The Arc has. I’m going to be sharing a series of three blogs with you where I explore what it means to work to achieve social justice within a framework of Jewish grounding. Thanks for exploring with me! 

The High Holiday text-study event “Why Do Something Rather than Nothing” lead by Rabbi Aryeh Cohen was my first interaction with the Bend The Arc community. Rabbi Cohen lead us through text excerpts from Deuteronomy and Exodus to explore how Jews are called to action in our sacred texts. 

Here are three things I learned from Jewish text: 

1. We must help our neighbors

Help your neighbors

We began by taking a look at the declaration, “do not stand idly by your neighbor’s blood” from Leviticus (19:16). From this short moral principle, we glean that humans are called to act when we witness a fellow human in need of help. This excerpt goes on to point out that we must not be idyl even if we cannot offer support directly; we can raise awareness of the situation and can call for help. This principle tells us that there are no excuses; we must fight with what we have against the atrocities that are present in our world, country, and neighborhoods.

2. We must keep our eyes open

To be able to decide to help our neighbors, we must be aware that they are in need of help. An excerpt from Exodus tells us that it is essential for us to open our eyes to sites of suffering, “And he saw their burdens - he set his eyes and mind to share in their distress,” Exodus Rabbah (1:27). We must choose to be aware of the injustices that are occurring in the world around us, even if it is difficult to bear witness. Sometimes we feel the urge to skip the daily news and hide under our covers, but this will never make the existing suffering go away.

3. We must practice radical sympathy

The same excerpt from Exodus encourages us to ‘share in the distress of suffering people’. We can share in the distress of the suffering by practicing radical sympathy. If we truly take the time to consider what it would be like to live as our suffering neighbor, we will be motivated to act. We will act because their pain has become a shared pain. 


Our holy texts call for the work we do at Bend The Arc. Together, we stand up to protect targeted communities, we continue to learn about injustices taking place, and we investigate why we are committed to working towards justice for all in the United States.