Shabbat as a Safe Haven: A reflection from the Weekend of Hope, Healing and Service

February 2, 2017

Aviva Jacobs is a Schusterman Fellow and a Vice President with Teach For America, responsible for recruiting the best and most diverse talent for the fight for educational equity. Aviva participated in the Weekend of Hope, Healing and Service, a two-day event hosted by Repair the World, Moishe House, Hillel and the Jim Joseph and Schusterman Foundations, and shares her thoughts here. 

As I got off the airplane Friday evening from my Nashville work trip, I hurried to the taxi line. Feeling disoriented by TV coverage of the Inauguration and the running to-do list in my head, I was thankful to have the Weekend of Hope, Healing and Service Shabbat dinner to head to—a safe haven. A place for peace, community and reflection. I got there right as the brachas were about to start and sat at a table with people I didn’t know, yet who greeted me like family that they hadn’t seen in a while. I sat there listening to the various words of prayer and inspiration, taking in the aura of peace and finally finding a deep breath among all of the uncertainty and fear that the latest election season had brought.

I knew that the next day I’d attend the Women’s March on Washington, but I didn’t know that an impressive group of “nasty women” would actually start “marching” at this dinner—specifically, Rabbi Sharon Brous, Lisa Eisen, and Lynn and Stacy Schusterman. I listened to the words they shared with us—messages of hope, ideas of community, and charges of action.

I found myself jotting down notes with action steps sparked by the spirit in the room and the reflections of these incredible leaders: how would I create more spaces for Jews in DC to come together to strengthen our bonds? How would I ensure this community continued to fight to give voice to the voiceless? How could I get more involved politically?

The evening ended with music and dancing, and I couldn’t help but call to mind the image of Miriam dancing from the Torah: “Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her in dance with timbrels. And Miriam chanted for them, ‘Sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously; horse and driver He has hurled into the sea.’” (Song at the Sea (Ex. 15:20–21)

As Rabbi Brous pointed out, the Torah portion that week was the first chapter of Exodus, and the connections between current day politics/events and the words in that parsha highlighted the importance of standing up for what we believe in, especially in the most challenging of times. I left dinner feeling both courage and hope in my heart, uplifted by a sense of community and cohesion and affirmed as a Jewish woman in the world trying to find a way to fight for justice amid the chaos.

After proudly marching at the Women’s March that Saturday, I volunteered on Sunday at a nursing home with a small (but mighty) group of other volunteers, all of whom were also at the Shabbat dinner on Friday. The nursing home serves mostly senior citizens from low-income backgrounds, and I could tell that some of the volunteers were nervous about interacting with people who came from such different backgrounds and who couldn’t perform many basic functions for themselves. But the group leader (a young man who is interning at Repair the World) immediately created the space for us to introduce ourselves and talk about why we were there.

Themes of tikkun olam, community, tzedakah and dor l’dor surfaced, and soon thereafter it felt as if we’d known each other for years. As we joined the residents for a game of bingo and an ice cream social, I could hear the words from Shabbat two days prior: find strength in our people and in the acts we take to advocate for justice, to reach out to others during this time of uncertainty and to constantly think about our roles as Jewish leaders.

At the end of the weekend when many of my friends felt lost and unsure about what to do next after the Inauguration and the Women’s March, I was struck by how full my heart was, how open my eyes were to the ways in which the Jewish community could band together and how supported and connected I felt to a kahal connected by service, love, and Judaism.  

The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation is proud to empower emerging leaders to explore their values, identity and new ways to strengthen their communities. We believe that as we work together to repair the world, it is important to share our diverse experiences and perspectives along the way. We encourage the expression of personal thoughts and reflections here on the Schusterman blog. Each post reflects solely the opinion of its author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation, its partner organizations or all program participants.