Principals Perspective (April 2023) - Rabbi Matthew Bellas
Rabbi Matthew Bellas

Walking the Talk of Tikkun Olam/Repair of the World

In the second paragraph of the Aleinu prayer, which is found in the concluding section of each of Shaharit, Minhah, and Ma-ariv - our three daily prayer services - we are called במלכות ש-די לתקן עולם/to repair the world in partnership with the sovereignty of God. Going back as far as the Creation narrative, human beings have been charged and entrusted with the caretaking of the world and its creatures and Judaism has always placed a strong emphasis on this responsibility for each individual. In the spirit of our tradition, one of our core values at CESJDS is תקון עולם/repair of the world and we take seriously our educational responsibility not only to learn about it, but also to provide real life opportunities to perform it. I wanted to take this opportunity to share how we bring תקון עולם/repair of the world to life as a Lower School community for all of our students.

Each year, as 4th grade students prepare for the Sara and Samuel J. Lessans 4th Grade Havdalah Ceremony, they participate in a lesson with me that introduces them to the tikkun olam project that will be part of this milestone celebration. Together, we learn about many of the ethical mitzvot/commandments of our tradition, typically referred to as “good deeds,” and the various ways that these can contribute to tikkun olam in smaller and more personal ways and those which are larger and more global. We look to the custom of breaking a glass at a Jewish wedding as an example of how, even at the times of our greatest joy and celebration, we must remember that we live in an imperfect and broken world and take our place as God’s partners in the world to repair it. With these lessons and ideas in mind, our 4th grade students kicked off their efforts for their annual tikkun olam project. This year, 4th grade launched a new partnership with Leveling the Playing Field, an organization founded and led by CESJDS alumnus Max Levitt ‘07, which collects and funds the distribution of athletic equipment to schools, organizations, and communities that are not able to afford it themselves. Max epitomizes not only the CESJDS core value of tikkun olam, but also the entire Portrait of a CESJDS Graduate and we are fortunate to have him available to our students as a dugmah ishit/personal role model.

Over the course of each school year, all of our students have the opportunity to participate in many different tikkun olam projects, supporting a variety of organizations, and fulfilling many mitzvot. The beauty of our approach is that student empowerment rests at its core, with projects being run through student leadership and initiative to every extent possible. The forerunners of these efforts are our 5th Grade Student Council members. In the late fall and winter, they respond to needs in the wider Montgomery County community by sponsoring a food drive to benefit Manna Food Center and a winter clothing drive for those in need. In conjunction with Read Across America Week, they run a new and lightly used book drive. This year, the winter clothing collection and book drive became a collaboration with the Upper School, which has a partnership to support nearby Sargent Shriver Elementary School. For these tikkun olam projects, our students create the publicity items, come out to arrival and dismissal carpool lines to promote the projects and collect donations, and help to sort and organize the items for pick up or delivery.

Tikkun olam is about more than giving to others in need. It can also take the form of working to improve the nature and quality of our community through greater kindness, empathy, and understanding. In this vein, 2nd grade piloted a new tikkun olam initiative this year, participating in The Great Kindness Challenge, a one-week program during which students seek out as many ways as possible to show kindness to others: family members, friends and classmates, teachers, community members, and even strangers. Studies have demonstrated that kindness is contagious and that individual acts can become widely spread; this project gives our students the opportunity to be the spark.

Other grade-wide initiatives that took place this year in the spirit of and need for tikkun olam include:

  • Gurim integrates the value and mitzvah of tikkun olam into daily classroom life. At Tu BiSh-vat time, students reused milk cartons by converting them into planters, then filled them with soil and planted a plant. Students learned about reducing waste, reusing resources, and how to care for living things and the earth.
  • Kindergarten supported Comfort Cases during its Kindergarten is Thankful event before Thanksgiving by collecting and packing comfort and personal care items for foster care children. 
  • 1st grade’s 100th Day of School Penny Drive which resulted in almost $90.00 being used - by vote of the students - to purchase toys for the service dogs that came to visit as part of their JDAAIM (Jewish Disabilities Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month) program in February.
  • 3rd grade initiated a pen-pal program with residents of the Ring House and the Hebrew Home to bring them light and joy, embodying the value of tikkun olam and fulfilling the mitzvah of kibbutz z’keinim/honoring the elderly.

By both teaching the value and importance of tikkun olam and offering real-life and practical opportunities to walk its walk, we hope to become people who will actively work to care for the world, and improve the lives of those who live on it, and that tikkun olam will be a natural and typical part of our students’ lives.