(Please note that Rabbi Bookman is having some Internet issues and the date that a Blog was written may be different from the date it was posted.)
The following is excerpted from Rabbi Bookman’s recent comments about his 2011 Sabbatical trip.
For quite some time, I have been concerned that the Jewish understanding of tikkun olam has become too narrow, relegated to local projects and helping our fellow Jews. While I am in favor of making the neighborhood a better place in which to live, and while most of my tzedakah is spent on Jewish causes, I have felt that the olam (which means “the world”) part needed more reflection, more effort. Karen and I feel so blessed with what we have, with what we have achieved, that we want to give back. While sabbatical time is usually associated with learning and scholarship, writing books and the like, I had hoped that this sabbatical could be about service to people.
An organization whose mission reflects just that is American Jewish World Service (AJWS), dedicated to alleviating poverty, hunger and disease among the people of the developing world regardless of race, religion or nationality. It is an organization that takes the notion that we are ALL created b’tzelem Elohim/in the image of God quite literally. AJWS has matched us with a project in India — the Navsarjan organization, which has sought volunteers with a background in education, specifically curriculum development — as well as leadership development and fundraising — to help support a program called Dalit Shakti Kendra. We will be there until March 10th.
In March we return to the U.S. for a family simcha; then we’re off to Ecuador. Over the last few years I have helped a group of people rediscover their Jewish identities through study, experience and, in some cases, conversion to Judaism. Now they have started their own congregation in Guayaquil. I promised that if they did that I would go to Ecuador, help them develop their leadership, teach Torah and celebrate their freedom by conducting their first communal seder.
In the past I have preached about people throughout Latin America discovering the Jewish history of their families — so-called “crypto Jews” who hid their identities while pretending to be Christian to avoid the Inquisition. I have stated that, for the most part, they are not being well received by local Jewish communities, even after conversion. By helping them I am attempting to do something about this injustice. Here we have brothers and sisters who have been lost to us trying to find their way home. How can we stand idly by? How can we not do our best to help?
This past year Bet Chadash held its first High Holy Day services. For Simchat Torah I sent them their first Torah scroll, which came from a Jewish community in Morocco no longer in existence. Think about that. The journey of that scroll is a mirror image of our people’s journey. The survival power of our people is truly amazing
Thank you for affording me this time to renew myself spiritually and physically. I plan to come back to you fully engaged and ready to share our experiences and stories as we continue our sacred work of making Beth Am a center for Jewish renewal and community.