By Rabbi Jessy Dressin and Diana Goldsmith
In Jewish tradition, Jews are constantly called to consider and care for those on the margins. A perfect example is the marking of peah (leaving the corner of one’s field for those in need to come glean). Marking peah is one of those prescriptions in the Torah that is “without measure.” The Torah tells us to do it but does not provide instruction of the details. How much? When? Why are the Jewish people held accountable to providing for the vulnerable populations among them?
One commentary suggests that the precise time the owner of a field is required to designate a portion of their field for those in need is clear: At the exact same moment the owner of a field desires the ripened produce for their own consumption, the Holy One desires all people should have enough to eat. A person says, “Wow, that tomato looks delicious. I want to eat it,” and G-d says, “I want all people to have food to eat!” A person who wants for themselves is required to act on the desires of the Divine; a reminder to take action that impacts the collective in a moment of personal want.
The Torah provides a framework for how to habituate ourselves to think about others around us. In this time of disruption to our everyday norms, we must strengthen our own muscles of service and compassion out of a recognition that vulnerable populations in our community may be struggling that much more. People already experiencing food insecurity may now experience even greater barriers to accessing a meal. Those struggling to pay bills are most likely putting themselves at risk to show up to a job they can’t afford to lose. Isolated seniors who relied on the kindness of friendly visitors are without sociable interaction.
Repair the World Baltimore recognizes this as a time when we need to work hard as a community to keep others in the forefront of our mind and actions. For those of us who find ourselves “stuck at home” and maybe even a little “bored,” this is likely an indicator that we are in a position of having enough of what we need to get by, and so we should be asking ourselves: “How can I serve others in my community who are experiencing this time as a fight for survival?”
Since early March, Repair the World Baltimore has been discovering creative ways to continue to show up around service and social justice learning in order to respond to both ongoing and new needs. With the sometimes contradictory values of protecting health and showing up for our neighbors, Repair is providing both virtual opportunities and
in-person roles that are following CDC safety guidelines.
Baltimore Repair has been regularly communicating with our nonprofit partners and has several ongoing volunteer opportunities posted on our website for interested volunteers ranging from providing meals to food insecure families, to making masks for Baltimoreans living in public housing.
One major thing we have learned during this time is the caution to not get so wrapped up in the short term that we forget to use this time to also prepare for the long-term needs that will accompany us into the next chapter. For those already struggling to access adequate resources for their education, the gap is likely to grow. So too in virtually every area of our society. We see this time as an occasion for us to strategize how we will approach our work in the long run. In April, Baltimore Repair hosted four virtual gatherings where we learned from local leaders who are addressing current needs, and also discussed the larger questions about how we ought to prepare for the future. These gatherings have offered opportunities for virtual volunteering and mobilizing for good, even when we can’t
physically come together.
Baltimore Repair was already transitioning to onboard three fellows who, beginning in August, will spend a year in Baltimore organizing their peers to serve. We have maintained our commitment to this next step during this time even as we recognize that how people
show up and serve will be impacted for some time. However, our tradition is one that has
pivoted many times over many generations. And if we can consider the limitations of our time unfolding in the context of tradition, then we already know there is only one answer to the question of “do we serve?” It is, unequivocally, “yes.” For indeed, service to our community is yet another prescription that is “without measure.”
Rabbi Jessy Dressin is director of Repair the World Baltimore. Diana Goldsmith is program manager of Repair the World Baltimore.