This blog post was written by Lilly Pickles, a Yahel Social Change Fellow living and working in Lod.
Stepping foot in the holy land of Israel for a nine-month volunteering experience was a life-altering decision for me. As a non-Jewish individual, I embarked on this journey with an open heart and mind, eager to immerse myself in the rich tapestry of Jewish culture, traditions, and values. Little did I know that my time spent volunteering in the diverse city of Lod would profoundly impact my faith, leaving a stirring mark on my soul. I want to share my experiences and reflect upon how the timeless teachings of the Torah and the wisdom it encapsulates has guided my work in fostering harmony and understanding among the Jewish and Arab communities in Lod. The teachings of the Torah have illuminated my path, offering guidance, and inspiring me to lead a life of purpose, compassion, and service to others.
Finding Common Ground
Throughout my time here, I had the privilege of working closely with children from various backgrounds. Whether Jewish, Arab, or from other communities, despite the challenges of living here; these children displayed an incredible resilience and thirst for knowledge. In the incredible diversity of cultures, I discovered that the fundamental values espoused in the Torah, such as compassion, empathy, and justice, resonated universally with the children. By integrating these principles into our educational activities, we created an environment that fostered cooperation, understanding, and mutual respect among the young minds, laying the foundation for a more harmonious future together.
The Community Garden: One of the most transformative experiences during my volunteering stint was working in a community garden alongside Jewish Russian refugees. Together, we worked the soil, nurturing life and forging connections rooted in our shared commitment to the earth. The Torah's teachings about stewardship and our responsibility to care for the environment became manifest in the garden's flourishing produce. This project not only provided sustenance but also served as a catalyst for building bridges across cultural and generational divides.
Teaching English to Arab and Palestinian women proved to be an immensely fulfilling endeavour, as language became a vehicle for communication and understanding, I witnessed the transformative power of education in breaking down barriers. The values of inclusivity, respect, and the pursuit of knowledge became guiding principles in these classes. By empowering these women with language skills, we aimed to enhance their prospects for a better future while fostering a sense of unity and empathy within the community. Plus, we had a lot of fun together which is valuable all on its own.
At the Young Adult Center (YAC) in Lod, I dedicated my efforts to improving the hub for young adults from diverse backgrounds. The Torah's teachings about responsibility and community guided my work, as we created a space that provided opportunities for personal growth, skill development, and meaningful interactions. By embracing the notion of stewardship, we encouraged young adults to take an active role in shaping their future, fostering a sense of belonging and pride in their shared space.
Halacha, often translated as "Jewish law," refers to the body of religious laws and principles that guide the Jewish way of life. It encompasses a wide range of practices, rituals, ethical teachings, and legal rulings derived from the Torah (the Five Books of Moses) and other Jewish texts. Halacha serves as a comprehensive framework that not only governs religious rituals but also influences various aspects of Jewish life, including personal conduct, family relationships, social justice, and more.
One of the central purposes of the Halacha is to secure and perpetuate the Jewish way of life. By adhering to its precepts, Jewish individuals and communities maintain a connection to their heritage, traditions, and identity. The Halacha is deeply rooted in Jewish history and has evolved over centuries to address new circumstances and challenges faced by the Jewish people. It acts as a guidepost, providing a sense of continuity and stability amidst changing times.
Disregarding or rejecting it can have profound consequences for the Jewish way of life. When individuals or communities neglect to observe the Halacha or reject it entirely, the distinctiveness and cherished values of Judaism gradually erode. The Halacha acts as a unifying force, ensuring that Jews across different regions and time periods share a common set of beliefs and practices. By disregarding its teachings, the sense of unity and communal identity weakens, making it harder to preserve the Jewish way of life.
The Halacha also plays a crucial role in passing on Jewish values and ethics from generation to generation. Its teachings encompass not only religious rituals but also moral and ethical principles that guide Jewish behaviour. By upholding these timeless laws, individuals internalize these values for their children and so on. Concepts such as justice, compassion, honesty, and kindness, form the bedrock of Jewish ethics.
Collective Responsibility and Communal Cohesion
Judaism establishes norms and guidelines for communal engagement, mutual support, and social justice. Promoting the ideals of Tzedakah (charitable giving), gemilut chasadim (acts of loving-kindness), and Tikkun Olam (repairing the world). Through adherence to these teachings, Jewish individuals actively participate in the preservation and betterment of their communities and the wider world. They are not merely a set of laws but a comprehensive system that secures and perpetuates the Jewish way of life.
This nine-month period of volunteering has been an enriching and transformative experience. By embracing Jewish values, I have witnessed the tremendous potential for unity, understanding, and social harmony within diverse communities. Each endeavour has been a testament to the enduring power of these values. As I continue my path toward Orthodox Judaism, I am grateful for the lessons learned and the connections forged, reminding me that we are all stewards of the earth and responsible for one another's well-being.