Lo Alecha HaMelacha Ligmor – My Time with Tzedek so far
All in all, my first day at Tzedek was pretty surreal. The charity is based near Baker Street, and the combination of my love of Sherlock with my fond memory of a childhood trip to the now defunct Madame Tussauds Planetarium with my dad has always made the area pretty magical for me. Add into the mixer the feeling of being part of the world-renowned London commuter base for the first time ever and you get the idea of how special this day was. The fact that I wasn’t disappointed one iota by the end of the day is a testament to how great the working environment at Tzedek’s office is. From the first minute I was treated as a genuine member of the team, rubbishing the numerous stories that I’d read about ‘intern’ being a modern synonym for ‘maker and distributor of instant coffee’. I was given a short tour of the office, set up with a desk and an email account, and set on my way.
Tzedek is the UK Jewish community’s response to extreme poverty in Africa and Asia. This translates to be three main things; firstly, they invest in a variety of projects overseas with the help of the overseas project team (the OPT, which I’ll get to later), secondly, they run a variety of fundraising events to raise money for these projects, and finally, they educate members of the community on issues surrounding extreme poverty. As an education intern, my job is primarily to do with the latter. For the first few weeks, I was tasked primarily with updating the educational presentations that we give at schools, shuls and youth movements (called development dilemmas). As the weeks have gone on, I’ve started managing the work experience students that come into the office periodically, as well as taking on a few larger projects of my own. To say that the members of Tzedek’s office are welcoming would be a huge understatement. Equipped with four full-time paid staff and an army of volunteers, they have built a community of incredibly engaged individuals, all striving towards the same ultimate goal of creating a more just global society.
On a day out in London with the team. Westminster, huzzah!
There are two days that spring to mind during my internship that have been particularly memorable. The first of these was just a couple of weeks in, when I was invited to attend an OPT meeting. Crammed into a volunteer’s living room near Golders’ Green, I was able to experience the beating heart of Tzedek’s work in action. Right there, equipped with just a few laptops, notepads and pens, there was a group of committed volunteers tasked with improving the lives of hundreds of people in the developing world. Amongst other things, people debated the potential successes of animal rearing, microcredit and vocational training courses with a passion that is a joy to behold. Even more so, at the end of the meeting the team agreed to let me take part in the voting process! Just to think, some university student a few weeks into an internship, contributing to votes that will no doubt have huge ramifications to real people living below the poverty line. If that’s not a reason to get up in the morning, I don’t know what is.
The second of these days was just last week, at Sinai School in North London. For the unaware, one of Tzedek’s educational programmes is a twinning programme between UK and Ghanaian primary schools, with the explicit aim of breaking down stereotypes and turning students into global citizens. Every year, at the end of the programme Tzedek runs a ‘celebration day’ where students and teachers talk about their experience of learning about a part of the world they may not have been all too familiar with. Hearing from students as young as eight years old present with full confidence their experiences of exchanging letters with fellow students thousands of miles away was unbelievable. I only wish that such a programme was available at my primary school, as I am all too aware that far too many children (and truth be told many adults) think of Africa as one monolithic habitat of people living in mud huts. Clearly we would all benefit from knowing more about the complex lives of people living in Ghana and beyond, and the fact that Tzedek is at the front line of educating the youth of today about such important issues is a testament to how influential this charity is.
Spending a lot of my time in the office reading about various issues surrounding extreme poverty and international development, it has become more and more apparent to me what a crime it is that so many should live on so little. Why it is that 1.2 billion people should be subject to the injustice of living on under 73p (yes, 73p) a day is beyond me. I mean that’s one out of every six people who don’t have enough money to eat a decent meal, let alone being able to afford adequate sanitation, healthcare or an education for their children. And I know that this is why so many people in the Global North are disengaged from these big issues – the problem is so big, how can we have any sort of impact? Well, if my short time at Tzedek so far has taught me anything, it’s that hard working, and committed individuals really can make a difference. One of Tzedek’s core values (and one that has quickly become my personal favourite) is the tongue-twisting Lo Alecha HaMelacha Ligmor, roughly translated as ‘it is not your duty to complete the work’. Just because you can’t completely eradicate something, doesn’t mean that you don’t have a responsibility to make whatever change you can. I find great joy in comparing this value to my youth movement’s (LJY-Netzer) value of Tikkun Olam (repairing the world). The more I think about it, these two organisations share so much ideological blood, and as such I can only hope that the relationship between the two continues to grow long into the future.
I don’t think that I’ll ever fully be able to thank Tzedek for the opportunity that I’ve been given, though I hope that this blog post is a start. After giving it much thought, I’ve decided to Live Below the Line next spring for Tzedek and am already drawing up a menu for the week (and I’d recommend everyone to get involved, to learn more visit http://tzedek.org.uk/live-below-the-line). I will be sad to leave Tzedek next month, though I truly believe that the things that I’ve learnt while I’ve been here will stick with me for many years to come. Less than a week after finishing my internship I will be jetting off to sunny Sandroyd School to run the office at LJY’s Kadimah Summer Camp (http://ljy-netzer.org/machaneh-kadimah-summer-camp), where hopefully I will get the opportunity to talk to both the tsevet and the chanichim about my experiences this summer. Spreading enthusiasm is just the first step in making a difference to the global community, though it is a step that I couldn’t be more excited about taking.