POLITICAL AND SOCIAL ACTIVISM ARE VERY JEWISH
It is very Jewish to be politically and socially active. A recent article in The New York
Times about the Workers Circle was a powerful reminder of this.
The Workers Circle, which used to be called the Workmen’s Circle and in Yiddish Der
Arbeter Ring, describes itself as “a social justice organization that powers progressive
Jewish identity through Jewish cultural engagement, Yiddish language learning,
multigenerational education, and social justice activism”. The organization was founded
in 1900 to promote the interests of Jewish immigrants facing the difficulties of entering
the labor force in the United States and simultaneously experiencing anti-Semitism and
social and economic pressures to assimilate.
My paternal grandfather, Feifel Margolin, was active in the Workmen’s Circle in New
York. I remember visiting my grandparents at one of the Workmen’s Circle’s adult
summer camps for urban Jews. My father, Milton (Motl in Yiddish, Mordechai in
Hebrew), was born in New York but spoke Yiddish as his first language and attended a
Workmen’s Circle version of our Shul School, to learn to read and write the Yiddish he
spoke at home and to absorb Jewish culture.
As the Times article points out and I learned first hand in my family, the Workmen’s
Circle members were (and are – the Workers Circle is alive and well) very, very Jewish
and for the most part not at all religious. Some members were Zionists, but many were
not. All were politically progressive (generally democratic socialists – Jewish
communists organized separately) and supported the rights of laborers to unionize,
minimum wage laws, workplace safety rules, and other social programs that I took for
granted growing up in the second half of the 20 th Century in America. How different our
world feels now, when so many of those assumptions about the public good and the
role of government are questioned or actively undermined.
So now that I have been typically digressive, what is my point? One point is that, as our
own CBI Tikkun Olam Committee models for us, work for the general welfare of the community is deeply Jewish. But there is more. The Workmen’s Circle were politically
active, striving to have government respond to the needs of the many.
There are a host of issues of great importance to our Jewish community, to the broader
local community, to the communities of the North State and of the State of California
and of our Nation and of the World. Some issues may engage you more than others,
but certainly there are important things that are important to you. It is very Jewish, then,
to engage at some level in promoting your views. Break into the bubbles so many of
our elected officials inhabit and remind them that you exist and have opinions and ideas
and that you vote. Do not give in to despair. Our forebears – members of the Arbeter
Ring and others - show us that engagement can effect change.
With blessings for a week of health, safety and community,
ן שלמה זלמן עיט בן מרדכי מרגלןהחז