This post is the eighth in our series this month on the spiritual practices of activism
that are rooted in and enhance our faith lives.
“Tzedek, Tzedek Tirdof” (Justice, Justice you shall pursue) – Deuteronomy, 16:20
“The world rests on three things, Torah [the Bible], Avodah [worship], and Gemilut Hasadim [acts of loving kindness].”
–Pirkei Avot [Ethics of our Ancestors] 1:2.
I believe that the pursuit of justice is not found merely in the grand fights: the fight for racial justice; the fight against unjust war; the fight against hunger and poverty. I believe that the pursuit of justice comes in the myriad decisions that fill our lives and in realizing how those decisions affect others. Justice for me means Tikkun Olam—repairing the world—or leaving the world a better place than when I got here. And while there are differentiating views on what it means to repair the world, I believe strongly that it means to fight against oppression and to walk lightly and be conscious of the affect that our choices can have on people and the environment.
My religion, Judaism, is not the one I was born into. Yet it is the one I chose, in great part, because it provided me with a basis in faith for fighting for justice and righteousness in a way centered in, though separate from, my relationship with God. I struggle with my relationship with God. I do not know what my concept of God is, but I do know that if God exists and if God created this beautiful world, then God would want us to care for it and for one another. This is my faith, and it is the basis for how I live my life.
My maternal grandparents modeled for me how to live one’s faith through acts of loving-kindness. My grandma is what I would call a Pope Francis Catholic. She doesn’t live her life as if praying and belief in God were enough to get her a pass to heaven. Rather, she and my deceased grandfather focused on good works. I remember well as a young child accompanying them to deliver food and gifts to the poor for Christmas. And later, during school holidays in junior high and high school, I would join my grandmother in feeding the hungry at the local soup kitchen, where she volunteered every week for years. My grandfather, who was a civil engineer and professor, volunteered at Head Start as a math tutor for young (often single) mothers studying for their GEDs. They were outdoors people, who took me on long hikes and camping trips and taught me to appreciate and love nature. They never bragged about these works or did them for the praise of others. They helped because they believed that it was important to care for those who had less than them.
While I did not choose my grandparents’ faith, like them, I did choose to live my faith by acts of loving-kindness and by pursuing justice. The Torah (the Christian Old Testament), Psalms, and the Books of the Prophets (together called the Tanakh), and my faith’s traditions provide me with the spiritual resources and guidance to work for justice. My faith commands me to welcome the stranger and care for the orphaned and widowed. My faith commands that I ensure that the hungry have food. My faith commands that I yearn for the day when “war and bloodshed cease,” when “water will flow to the thirsty as a stream.” My faith commands me to pursue justice. I live my daily life in accordance with these commands. I buy food from local farmers who use sustainable practices. I buy clothing from companies that have good labor practices. Most importantly, I try to teach my children empathy and love for everything and everyone.
Every Friday night before we light the Shabbat candles, my family puts money into our tzedakah box, which we give to the hungry. Tzedakah, which is related to the word tzedek (justice) is often compared to the act of charity. We hope to teach our children the importance of giving thanks for what we have and of giving to others who have less. On Shabbat, we recite Psalm 92 (A Song for the Sabbath), in which we remind ourselves that “the Righteous will flourish like the date palm; like the cedars of Lebanon they’ll grow.” We even gave our second son his Hebrew name from this Psalm (Adam) Erez–both in honor of the nature-holiday he was born nearest (Tu B’Shevat/the Birthday of Trees) and in the hope that he will be a righteous man in faith and works.
My career as an immigration attorney I chose after I chose my religion. I wanted to be a lawyer to work for justice for the vulnerable. But it was through intense prayer and searching that I realized my place was working for this particular population. Only a daily basis, I fight the good fight for the oppressed and persecuted. But I know that each individual I help is merely a drop in the bucket. This is why I do not stop fighting for justice when I leave the office.
Like my grandparents modeled for me the importance of the small acts of loving-kindness, I try to do the same for my children on a daily basis. In the end, I believe that my pursuit of justice and my faith are worth nothing if the work ends with me. They must be taught and passed on: l’dor v’dor—from one generation to the next.
Christie Popp is an immigration attorney in Bloomington, Indiana, as well as a wife and mother to two young boys. In her spare time, she exasperates her husband by worrying about all of the terrible things that are happening the world or that could possibly happen to her children. She recently began to channel those worries at overwroughtmom.wordpress.com. The rest of the time, she can be found at www.poppimmigration.com.