If you are Jewish, if you are politically aware, and if you want to do something real, read this book.
Rabbi Jill Jacobs is brilliant and accessible. She focuses on how to make the world a better place through community organizing as well as why we need to help as Jews—and no, I promise, you haven’t heard this before.
This book is especially amazing for what it is not. It is not preachy, it is not a guilt-trip, and it is not another plea to volunteer your time or money for your local Jewish organization. Instead, it is a well thought out call to arms along with a timely and necessary guide to getting involved with community organizing in a Jewish way.
Jacobs begins her work by “envisioning a just place,” bringing up concepts of civil law and social justice from Jewish tradition that are frequently overlooked in Jewish practice today. She couches her reasons for community organizing in an understanding of place and physicality—an approach that is both spiritual and surprisingly pragmatic. Her discussion of Jewish law and scholarship is fascinating, and while she doesn’t dumb down her sources (e.g. there are no anonymous “Jewish sages”), she explains everything so well that even a Reform-ish layperson like me can understand what she’s saying.
In the second section of the book, “The Principles and Practice of Social Justice,” Jacobs offers tools and guidance for community organizing, including different ways to think of storytelling and partnerships with different communities. Again, Jacobs is impressive with what she doesn’t do. She does not claim to have a perfect solution, nor does she imply that she herself is flawless and has always been completely confident in her skills and life path. Instead, she offers useful tools with which to move forward and relevant Jewish stories demonstrating how such action connects to our traditions.
The book concludes by giving practical advice on scope and impact, and it has an excellent list of resources in the back for those who are ready to act upon finishing her work. Honestly, I don’t see how one could not act after such a thorough discussion of the power and relevance of Jewish social justice.
Jacobs envisions her work as a tool for board members and committees, both a nudge for the elite and an inspiration to the dedicated, a text designed to ripple through the Jewish community from the inside out. While this book can be an excellent tool for various communities and boards of congregations, it can absolutely be read individually too. This is the sort of text that can guide a person towards sound decisions when they are lost and wondering how to live. (Think college graduation gift for the kid who thoroughly researched where she would donate her bat mitzvah money.) This is also the sort of text that can change the world; it has the potential to inspire and reinspire.
I’m going to lend my copy to the people I know who really “get it,” the ones who work hard and work smart and who work for the right causes. If this book is a tool, it’s not a hammer or even a Swiss Army knife—it’s a computer with directions to your local hardware store. I want all the best people to have it.
Where Justice Dwells: A Hands-On Guide to Doing Social Justice in Your Jewish Community
Paperback: 200 Pages
Jewish Lights; Available Now