The following is cross-posted from the Repair the World blog. Rabbi Will Berkovitz is Vice President of Partnerships and Rabbi in Residence for Repair the World.
It was a Catholic priest who found me. And it was in Kingston and not Jerusalem. Despite a “Jewish education,” I would have never given Judaism a second look were it not for Father Gregg and my experience in Jamaica. It was my senior year in college on a service trip. And this was the first time anyone challenged me to take life—to take religion—seriously.
Long before joining Repair the World as Rabbi in Residence, long before I even considered becoming a rabbi, I went with a small group on a service trip that would have been nightmare incarnate for many in the Jewish community: a young impressionable Jewish college student alone in the developing world with a group of Catholics—and a priest no less? Not only was I the only Jewish student on the trip. As far as I know, I was the only Jewish student at my University. (I can hear the gasp, but when you are paying your way through college you do what you can.) Little wafers were everywhere. They were drinking wine, singing spirituals and asking hard questions. And I was thinking why doesn’t Judaism have something like this? Not the wafers and the wine, but a spirituality that is lived out in the world through action and reflection – through doing and hearing. A community that challenges each other. Leaders who dare to ask, “What are you going to do with that privileged life of yours?”
Now twenty years later I am grateful to be a part of a growing movement of Jews who are doing just that. Creating a Judaism that is relevant and present to Jews on the margins as well as those on the inside. Stepping past fear and guilt Judaism. Striving to move beyond the hand-wringing, the egos and judgments, the exhausting negativity, territorialism and defensiveness that suffocate so much of our communal conversation. And into a Judaism where the mitzvot are a means to a greater end and not an end to themselves. Where being a Jew can mean caring about our community, but also the broader world. And we don’t have to justify it. Where the old words are being made new. And those “new/old words” are commanding us to take our privilege, our education, our passion and our belief that things don’t have to be as they were or as they are. And that Judaism and Jews acting as Jews have something vital to contribute to repairing our world. Or whatever corner of the world we happen to find ourselves in at the moment. That there is much work to do and it does not matter if you feel commanded by God or moral purpose. But that you feel commanded. It may not be in heaven, but it may be across the sea. And it is very close. In our mouths. In our hearts. And most certainly in our hands.
This article is cross-posted from the Repair the World blog.
Rabbi Will Berkovitz is Vice President of Partnerships and Rabbi in Residence for Repair the World. An ordained rabbi from the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles, he is the former rabbi and executive director of Hillel at the University of Washington and Jconnect Seattle. Rabbi Will currently lives in Seattle with his wife Lelach, and their sons Nativ and Idan.