Tikkun Olam is a Jewish concept meaning “to repair the world.” After the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died while being arrested by Minneapolis police in May, a group of Jewish students across Georgia are now working to show solidarity and spark anti-racist work in their community.
Students from Hillel organizations across over 24 campuses in Georgia have organized a racial justice initiative under the Tikkun Olam concept. Hillel organizations are Jewish communities aimed at fostering Jewish life on campus.
Hillels of Georgia, an umbrella of student-led organizations on college campuses in the state, is currently running a fundraiser benefiting three Black-led organizations in Atlanta. The fundraiser marks the start of the initiative, which students hope to see grow into a continuous effort towards racial justice.
“We want to have this be the first step in showing solidarity from the Jewish community to the Black community and mobilizing Jewish students to take part in anti-racist work,” said Ellie Reingold, a third year interdisciplinary theatre and animation major, and member of the University of Georgia’s Hillel community.
SisterLove, 100 Black Men of Atlanta and The Solutions Not Punishment Collaborative will benefit from the fundraiser. Each organization is Black-led and focuses on specific issues related to social justice.
The Solutions Not Punishment Collaborative is a Black trans and queer led group that focuses on mass criminalization and gender-based violence. The organization was founded as a direct response to the criminalization of sex workers in Atlanta. 100 Black Men of Atlanta aims to increase educational and economic opportunities for African American youth in Atlanta.
SisterLove is a reproductive justice advocacy group, focusing on intersectionality in sexual and reproductive justice.
“What we know is that numbers of people matter, as do combined efforts speaking out against any kind of injustice,” said Sybil Miller, director of communications of SisterLove, in an email to The Red & Black. “31 years have taught us the great value in collaborating and partnering with other institutions to meet and amplify the diversity of needs.”
Miller also said that she hopes the fundraiser is the beginning of a “community partnership beyond this initiative.”
Students headed the effort to find organizations and issues to choose from, said Elliot B. Karp, CEO of Hillels of Georgia. Karp and staff at Hillels of Georgia work with students and campus organizations to “create a very active and vibrant Jewish community.” This can include hosting meals, celebrating holidays and promoting Jewish art and culture, Karp said.
The decision on which three organizations to focus on was decided in a group poll amongst students, according to Reingold.
“I'm really proud of their initiative,” Karp said. “Number one because of how important it is, number two is that they took it seriously, and three I think they have been tremendously successful and that these three organizations are going to benefit from their commitment.”
The initiative started with Hillel students from Emory University aiming to push social justice beyond social media posts after the death of Floyd.
Students at Emory University’s Hillel held an online vigil in memory of Floyd where students shared prayers, writings and thoughts on Floyd’s death and racism in America, according to Emory Hillel Vice President Cameron Katz.
Katz went to Karp after the vigil hoping to do something actionable and tangible for the Black community in Atlanta. The students decided on a fundraiser and the effort grew to include Hillel communities across Georgia.
“We wanted it to be more of a grassroots movement,” Katz said. “It’s been very student driven this whole time.”
Karp lauded the Hillel students for taking it upon themselves to do something actionable, and was “fully on board” when the idea landed on his desk. Karp provided edits on the marketing, and also found two anonymous donors to match $2,500 worth of contributions.
Reingold worked with Karp on the marketing materials, and came up with the initial designs. Reingold is also a member of the Tzedek Committee at UGA Hillel. Tzedek means justice in Hebrew, and the committee is for students who want to “give back and better the world,” according to UGA Hillel’s website.
The committee typically focuses on two primary topics or issues, one for the first and second half of each semester. The beginning of this fall’s focus is racial justice, and the Tikkun Olam project marks the first of the semester. UGA Hillel also has organized a racial justice speaking series to bring in experts and Jews of color to educate its members on issues like racism, justice and being an ally.
“A lot of us really believe that Tikkun Olam and social justice is a really core part of our belief system and our faith,” Reingold said.