As a Jewish kid growing up in Israel, I never dealt with the issue of Tikkun Olam. Even though the words are in Hebrew, they say much more to Americans than to Israelis. This all changed about ten years ago when a close mentor of mine was lecturing about the three historic anchors that have defined the path and the purpose of Jews in this world: ensuring the survival of the Jewish people; the constant yearning of Jews to return to the promised land of Israel; and Tikkun Olam as the mission of the Jewish people.
Time has passed and things have changed, but the three historic anchors of the Jewish people remain solid. Therefore, it is worth returning to them in these times of unprecedented challenges that the Jewish people face in our ability to maintain Jewish peoplehood. In many places in North America the issue of Israel, which used to be a consensus of community solidarity, has become polarizing, tearing apart Jewish communities. What used to be a shared value has turned into politics, alienating many.
So what is the connection between this current trend within Jewish communities and the historic anchors of the Jewish People? The answer should be 21st century Tikkun Olam.
These anchors originated in God’s promises to Abraham of a land, of a people, and of a legacy of contribution to humanity – "Nivrichu b'cha kol mispachot ha'adama" ("Through you all the families of the earth shall be blessed"). They have reverberated through the generations. Today, realizing the legacy of contributing to other nations can also point to a new way to bridge gaps within the Jewish community. And it will only happen if we start thinking of Tikkun Olam in a broader way, with Jews from all over the world, including Israel, working together for the benefit of others in need – and yes, even being recognized for it. For its potential to strengthen Jewish peoplehood as well as Israel and the Jewish people’s position in the global community of common values, where Tikkun Olam may have been considered ‘nice-to-have,’ 21st century Tikkun Olam is a definitive ‘must-have.’
There is no other issue today in Jewish life that liberal and progressive Jewish circles and conservative Jews alike can feel connected to like Tikkun Olam, which appeals to those passionate about social justice as well as those committed to ensure Israel's global standing. Jews of all political and ideological stripes are already investing time and resources towards these goals – the effects can be amplified exponentially by working towards them in synergy and together.
For that to happen there need to be a shared vision. The vision put forward recently by the Reut Institute from Tel Aviv is a call for 14 million Jews to work together towards significantly impacting the lives of a quarter of a billion disadvantaged people around the world. This vision brings together the power and innovation of the state of Israel with the expertise and energy of a worldwide network of Jews to focus on issues that are beneficial to people in need. It taps into deeply engrained values of all Jews while also acting to enhance the long-term security and standing of the state of Israel.
There is no doubt that achieving this ambitious goal will take time and require the joint efforts of many. Yet, the benefit of Jews coalescing to embrace and work for a shared goal is essential and immediate, and its potential effect on Jewish life could be almost as significant as the ultimate goal itself.
Roy Keidar is the CEO of the Reut Institute, an Israel-based strategy and impact group focused on effectuating change in areas critical to Israel’s future.