Miriam-Webster’s dictionary stats that activism is: a doctrine or practice that emphasizes direct vigorous action especially in support of or opposition to one side of a controversial issue.
The problem with understanding this term in a Jewish context and an English teacher’s context is that I understand “active” as a verb. This means there is actual movement or action within every calculated move. So what does it mean to be an activist? Can one do so in the context of their own spiritual beliefs or do we hand this thought over to the Zionists and socially aware? I think we can have it both ways.
To be an activist within your own spirituality might be learning or taking up new prayers. It can be attending a class that makes us more active spiritually and within the community. To actually connect with G-d is an act of activism. When every ounce of faith you have is poured into a heartfelt conversation or plea with G-d, when we realize that we need to put in some work with G-d to get something in return. Maybe it’s a short Bracha we learned in class or maybe it’s a prayer that might help traffic part on the way to work. Sometimes it’s mitzvot that we do in turn to connect. Whatever it might be viewed as, it’s active.
Social activism comes with a different context and sometimes at a different price. Both are seen as valuable in the Jewish world. To stand with Israel is an activist approach. Maybe you feel more Jewish or more connected when you stand with your Israeli flag on a street corner and sing “Shalom Aleichem” while the opposition shows depictions of terrorism in IDF uniforms. We attend rallies, encourage peaceful demonstrations, and teach a local group or random neighbor something insightful about Israel. Maybe it’s as simple as screaming at the left wing reporter on the news that clearly has misguided information about a place you know and love.
None of the above suggestions or tactics work for you. Clearly you want to be an activist in your Jewish world and of course you’re entitled to decide what is “Jewish” so let’s look at what you like. Maybe you’re very much into the concept of social work or you have a skill like law. You can do some Pro Bono work for your community or help Jewish families in crisis. You cant do this? Why? You work at a grocery store. Perfect! Start a canned food drive for Mazon, A Jewish Response for Hunger.
The problem with wanting to be an activist and actually being one is that we can all WANT something. Doing is really the key, really the act of mitzvot. By being an activist in your Jewish life, you are connecting with G-d on a level you feel most comfortable. No one can tell you that Tikkun Olam, my favorite of all concepts in Judaism, is not needed or valued.
I implore the Jewish community to challenge itself. What makes us active in our own faith and actions? What is the verb in our daily worship or conversation with G-d? If we are able to find one, try to find more. Every act we do can help create a bond stronger than the one previous. It is when we forget that activism is defined by doing that we, as a community, can become empty vessels. An active heart and active hands will promote a Jewish home. Jewish homes promote Jewish community. A Jewish community can promote Tikkun Olam. And to think, just a few small actions a day…
Be true to the streets!