Social justice work is far from foreign in Judaism. In the Jewish tradition, there are many commandments that try to promote equality, peace, and the responsibility to assist those in need. But living according to these values is not always an easy thing to do.
“Take a deep breath.” “One day at a time.” “This too shall pass.” We say these things to ourselves to try to cope with the hardships and frustrations that we are bound to encounter when pushing for just change. But I’ve found that words only get me so far: it has been finding the space between the words that has really supported my work.
When I first started meditating, I had no idea that Judaism has a long and rich history of contemplative and insight-building practices. I originally learned meditation through Buddhist institutions, but found myself longing to connect my experiences on the cushion with my understanding of Jewish practice. The Jewish Meditation Center of Brooklyn (JMC) heeded the call of practitioners like myself and created a space for people to meditate Jewishly and collectively discuss what that even means. My time with the JMC has renewed my relationship to and interpretation of Jewish practice, and this includes my pursuits for Tikkun Olam (Healing the World), both in the world and in myself.
With my meditation practice, I’ve found that when I slow down and relax into the present tense, I am recharging myself: the pressures of learning from my past experiences or planning to initiate change can take a break in the spaciousness of the moment. By learning how to be more mindful of the endless parade of thoughts that run uncontrollably through my mind all the time, I have come to see more clearly which thoughts are useful and which are hurtful, cultivating compassion both for myself and for those I interact with.
“Justice, justice you shall pursue…” (Deuteronomy 16:20) Many of us have heard this and some of us try to live it. But what does “justice” really mean in any given situation? Meditation reminds us that while we function in a world of defined sides and beliefs, we often are mistaking our assumptions for reality. It is only when one can be present with an open curiosity towards ourselves and others, even those “others” that we sometimes see as enemies to our causes, that we can begin to hear what is really being expressed and what is truly needed. But don’t take my word for it. Science is starting to catch up on documenting the remarkable benefits and outcomes of meditation practice. (You can read about some of these articles on the JMC Facebook Page)
But don’t take their word for it either. The only way to see how meditation can support the challenging work of social action is to try it out and see for yourself. As it says in the Torah “We will do and we will hear.” (Exodus 24:7) Build your practice, and the benefits will come. You can thank me later.
Miriam Eisenberger is a social worker for West Side Federation Supportive and Senior Housing (WSFSSH) at their adult home site, West 74th St Home. She received her BA in Psychology from University of California Berkeley and her MSW from Hunter College School of Social Work. Miriam participated in AVODAH, as an outreach case work with Common Ground Community.