This weekend, as we observe Shabbat, we’ll read Parashat Mishpatim.
Mishpatim are laws, and the portion is a series of ethical instructions. Ordinances regarding assault, crop damage, the handling of livestock. And the warning: “Do not oppress the stranger; you know the feelings of a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
The treatment of the stranger is the most-mentioned principle in the Torah. We are warned and reminded that we were strangers. This is important – we are not to forget this. And we don’t.
Our narrative as Jews is very much one of displacement, of having to flee, of wandering. In our texts, in our family histories, we find exodus, movement, the search for a home.
Home can be found in many forms. For some people, it’s literally a house, a home of their own. For some it’s family, whether by birth or by choice. For some, home means a place where they feel welcome, whether that’s a country, a community, or a congregation. Home is safe and secure. Home can mean many things, but at its core, you find connectedness.
This connectedness is central to Jewish Community Action’s core values as an organization. We believe that our destiny is bound together with all people, that we must work collectively, and that it is our fundamental responsibility to work to repair a world that is broken, to put the scattered pieces back together.
Last year we saw our community come together to defeat two amendments that were designed to keep people apart – the marriage amendment was about restricting the kinds of families that people can create, and the voter restriction amendment was about alienating people from participation in our civic process, their connection to country.
As we move on this year, we take on new issues and renew our commitment to ongoing campaigns, and the center of our work remains our core values – relationships, community, and connectedness. We know that we are stronger when we’re in relationships, when we’re connected with other people, when we are part of something bigger than ourselves, whether that something is a family, a community, an organization, or a movement.
The issues we have chosen to work on this session and throughout the year are about building and restoring these connections. Injustice happens when the space between those with wealth and those without becomes too vast. With our financial justice work, we want to mend that divide, create equity, and bring people closer together. And through this work, we will connect the Jewish community to allies with whom we’ve shared important history. We work for comprehensive immigration reform so that newcomers to this country feel welcomed and supported as they build families and community. Our work for marriage equality is based in our belief that everyone should have the right to build families that look the way our hearts say they should. And, by working to end gun violence, we commit to making all of our communities safe places where everyone can thrive.
This work is about connectedness, and that’s also how we’ll do it. By connecting, through relationships in our community and as allies with other communities, we will build the strength that we need to create real change in our world. This is the central tenet of community organizing - we are all stronger in relationships; we are all more successful when we are connected. These issues are about people and families having the freedom to be in community with one another. To feel secure, to have the access and the ability to shape our own shared destiny together. Alone, we are strangers, but together, we are powerful.