By IFFP Board Member Jill Fioravanti
The concept of ‘tikkun olam,’ which can be traced back to Hebrew prayers and Jewish mystical tradition, focuses on “repairing the world.” The desire to personally and collectively work toward a more socially equitable, environmentally sound, and inclusive, and welcoming society is a thread woven throughout the Interfaith Families Project’s tikkun olam activities. As we celebrate our 25th Anniversary, the Chairs of the IFFP Tikkun Olam Groups reflect on the ways that IFFP has advanced tikkun olam over the last two-plus decades.
Community service has always been a core activity for IFFP, including providing opportunities to volunteer at A Wider Circle, collecting gifts for children and toiletry items for adults during Christmas and Chanukah, singing at Springvale Terrace Senior and Assisted Living Apartments, supporting Martin Luther King, Jr. Day service projects, and leading volunteerism activities with IFFP’s Coming of Age classes. In recent years, in addition to these ongoing projects, IFFP members developed three specific Tikkun Olam Groups to learn, study, and act in key areas that are vitally important to advancing a more just world.
- The work of the Immigrant and Refugee Assistance Tikkun Olam Group supports children and families at pivotal moments in their lives. Prior to the pandemic, IFFP members received training for and participated in accompanying immigrant households to ICE check-ins. Additionally, several members were trained to assist a woman in Sanctuary at Cedar Lane Unitarian Church. In the early months of the pandemic, we helped Sanctuary DMV purchase and deliver food to immigrant families in need. While many activities have ceased during this pandemic, we hope to resume work with immigrant communities when we can do so safely..
- The Racial Justice Tikkun Olam Group draws on our common traditions of justice to address structural racism and bigotry by undermining white supremacy as a part of a multi-racial movement for collective liberation. The group, whose work is guided by the Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) curriculum, took active roles in developing a statement in solidarity of social justice in the aftermath of the George Floyd killing in June 2020 and has hosted discussion groups for more than three years, using the SURJ curriculum to deepen our understanding of racism by using the serial sharing technique that allows everyone to hear and be heard. The group also organized an IFFP trip to the African American History Museum, held a community read/viewing of The Hate U Give, and has developed IFFP gatherings to honor Indigenous People’s Day and Black Lives Matter.
- The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has met regularly since 2016 to investigate the connections between theology and environmental stewardship and find practical ways for IFFP to act on those connections. The group developed the following mission statement:
To draw from and apply our interfaith traditions, and to serve as an example for the greater community, we will:
- Strengthen our spiritual interconnectedness with all life and all things that we call nature,
- Become more aware of the impacts that we as humans have on the natural world, and
- Act and live in ways that preserve and heal our precious ecosystems – those systems which sustain us and all life forms on this one Earth.
Highlights of the group’s work over the last five years include:
- Increasing awareness across the IFFP community of environmental issues and ways to act through religious and secular scripture and book discussions, and presentations by experts in the field of climate change and environmental justice
- Weekly Bulletin tips, sharing of information, checklists, and resources (see IFFP website)
- Conducting stream and invasive clean-ups at Sligo Creek and Lead Park
- Holding IFFP’s first Environmental Fair on subjects including GreenFaith, solar electricity, lighting, electric cars, composting, and water and rainscapes
- Connecting IFFP families with community solar resources
Randy Gibson and Matt McGrath reflected on their EWG experiences during April 25, 2021’s “Earth Day” themed Gathering. Randy said that his tikkun olam work has given him a “shared moral compass to learn and act with urgency in ways that understand ourselves as interconnected with nature and responsible for her in a reciprocal way.” Matt echoed the need for everyone to understand their moral and ethical obligation to act, “You have to think about what impact you can have – what you do, but what collectively we can have, good or bad, on the larger society – at your school, your work, neighborhood, and in volunteer activities.”
All three Tikkun Olam groups have provided, as Randy said, “ordinary to the more profound connections,” deeper relationships among IFFP members, and between IFFP and partner organizations and individuals, and enhanced meaning to our work as citizens of the Earth. The Tikkun Olam group themes – immigration, racial justice, and environmental sustainability – reflect three of the most critical issues of the last 25 years and will remain critical for many decades. They do not exist alone, intersecting every day. Our hope for IFFP for the next 25 years: that we continue to work to repair the world through our actions and our deeds.
Randy Gibson and Randi Field – Co-Chairs, Environmental Working Group
Cheryl Leanza and Heidi Friedman- Co-Chairs, Racial Justice Tikkun Olam Group
Grace Goodman and Adria Zeldin – Co-Chairs, Immigrant and Refugee Assistance Tikkun Olam Group