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B’nai Jehudah Scholar-in-Residence weekend features leading voice for Jewish social justice

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Those who are passionate about Jewish social justice, listen up. Rabbi Jill Jacobs, the executive director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, will be at The Temple, Congregation B’nai Jehudah this weekend (Friday night, Jan. 24, and Saturday, Jan. 25). The rabbi is widely recognized as the leading voice on Jewish social justice in the country. All events are free and open to the public. (See complete schedule below.)

Rabbi Jacobs has been executive director of T’ruah since April 2011. It is an organization of rabbis from all streams of Judaism that acts on the Jewish imperative to respect and protect the human rights of all people. Its mission statement states it is grounded in Torah and the Jewish historical experience and guided by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The organization advocates for human rights in Israel and North America and was originally known as Rabbis for Human Rights-North America, which was founded in 2002. It was renamed T’ruah in January 2013.

Rabbi Jacobs has been named three times to the Forward’s list of 50 Influential American Jews, to Newsweek’s list of the 50 Most Influential Rabbis in America every year since 2009, and to the Jerusalem Posts’ 2013 list of Women to Watch. She holds rabbinic ordination (2003) and a master’s degree in Talmud from the Jewish Theological Seminary, a master’s of science in Urban Affairs from Hunter College and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Columbia University. Prior to joining T’ruah, she worked at the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs and at Jewish Funds for Justice. She lives in New York with her husband and two daughters.

Rabbi Jacobs believes she is considered a leading voice on Jewish social justice because she thinks “there is a hunger for voices that connect contemporary social justice concerns with Jewish text and tradition in a way that is deep and authentic. This is what I strive to do in my rabbinate.”

The way Rabbi Jacobs connects Jewish text and tradition to tikkun olam is a big reason why B’nai Jehudah is bringing her here to speak.

“B’nai Jehudah and the Jewish community have a long history of engagement with the idea of tikkun olam, the things we do to make the world a better place. All of our congregations have been involved in things like helping to make our new JFS food bank real and viable. We all volunteer at various organizations and our heart has a very strong ethic toward repairing our world. And that’s wonderful and that’s good. But that’s one layer,” explained Rabbi Alexandria Shuval-Weiner.

Over the years Rabbi Shuval-Weiner has read about Rabbi Jacobs’ work, and heard her speak a couple of years ago. She was impressed by Rabbi Jacobs’ presentation and ideas, and how she adds another layer to tikkun olam.

“This idea of what it means to be people who live out a justice ethic became so clear to me that we are only beginning to scratch the surface in our community,” Rabbi Shuval-Weiner said.

“As we within a congregation are trying to understand what it means to do justice work, it just seemed that Rabbi Jacobs was the perfect person to come and teach us so that we could then engage in this conversation on a much deeper level and then figure out how do we become a congregation, a people who really live out the values that we profess to have.”

Among the things Rabbi Jacobs will teach about this weekend, Rabbi Shuval-Weiner said, include “what it means to live in this world in a manner that we understand God wants us to do.”

As Rabbi Arthur Nemitoff explained in his weekly e-blast to B’nai Jehudah members, it is Rabbi Jacobs’ goal “to call us to be an ‘Am Kadosh,’ a holy people.”

“Rabbi Jacobs and T’ruah sound the shofar to the human ills in our midst … and offer us ways to heal the brokenness we see,” he wrote.

T’ruah supports a variety of human rights issues. Right now Rabbi Jacobs said the Jewish community as a whole is at a critical moment in the question of where Israel fits into Jewish social justice.

“Most organizations that work in the realm of social justice focus on either Israel or the United States. But increasingly, Jews — especially young Jews — want our commitments to justice in the U.S. and our commitments to justice in Israel to go hand-in-hand. There’s a need for those of us who live here, but have deep commitments in Israel, to find ways to bridge these two commitments by dedicating ourselves to justice in both places,” she wrote in an email while visiting Israel last week.

The rabbi is, of course, honored to be recognized as such an influential woman among American Jews and notes there are many other “incredible rabbis and Jewish communal professionals and volunteers who don’t end up on these lists because their work is less public.”

“While it’s nice to see T’ruah’s work recognized, there are so many others who deserve recognition for the work they do day in and day out for the Jewish people and for human rights,” she said.

She’s looking forward to visiting Kansas City and hearing how members of this community think about human rights and Judaism, “and to share the work that T’ruah is doing to bring Judaism alive as a moral voice on the most pressing issues of our time.”

Community Editor Marcia Montgomery contributed to this article.

B’nai Jehudah Scholar-in-Residence weekend

Rabbi Jill Jacobs, executive director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, will be at The Temple, Congregation B’nai Jehudah tomorrow and Saturday, Jan. 24 and Jan. 25. At erev Shabbat services on Friday night, Jan. 24, she will discuss “The Mysterious History of Tikkun Olam.” An event for members of B’nai Jehudah’s Social Justice Committee and board of trustees follows.
On Saturday, Jan. 25, Rabbi Jacobs will teach the week’s parasha. All local high school and college students are invited to attend a lunch with Rabbi Jacobs at noon following services where she will teach “Obligations or Rights — Human Rights & Jewish Response.”
The final event of the weekend takes place at 7 p.m. Saturday night, after Shabbat, where Rabbi Jacobs will speak about “Taking Judaism Public — What Jewish Wisdom Can Teach America.” The event features a dessert reception and a book signing.
All Shabbat services as well as the Saturday night discussion and book signing are free and open to the public. Reservations are requested for some events. For more information contact the synagogue at 913-663-4050.