By Robyn Ashworth-Steen
When I was a human rights lawyer, I learnt that sometimes it’s necessary to fight.
I had many experiences which left me angry and pushed me to do something positive in changing our world so that the vulnerable are allowed to live their lives in dignity.
When I first met Dr Edie Friedman, the director of the Jewish Council for Racial Equality, I recognised a fellow fighter as well as a passionate and tireless campaigner.
Edie and I began speaking about the lack of a strong, collective rabbinic and cantorial stand on issues of social and economic justice in the UK.
After several months of planning and a lot of hard work from rabbis from across the denominational spectrum, we launched, on 28 January, Tzelem: The Rabbinic Call for Social and Economic Justice in the UK.
In the prestigious surroundings of the Speaker’s House at the House of Commons, we heard moving personal testimonies from four rabbis about struggles with mental health, immigration and relationships with families who were suffering from poverty and homelessness.
The rabbis spoke about the concerns of their congregants and a strong desire to help bring about change in our wider society.
Working cross-communally is newsworthy enough. We all know the joke about a Jew stranded on a deserted island who builds two synagogues – one he goes to and the other he would never dream of attending. But the real news is the reason why more than 60 rabbis stood together on 28 January – to say that enough is enough.
Tzelem is worried about the society we live in – for example, the fact that one in four children live in poverty and that one in four people will encounter a mental-health issue during the course of the year. And although mental health is 28 per cent of the country’s disease burden it receives only 13 per cent of the available funding.
The list goes on and on.
At Tzelem’s launch, rabbis and cantors spoke with one voice. We are ready to join the debate, to act and fight for a just and fair society.
• Robyn Ashworth-Steen is a rabbinic student at Leo Baeck College
The Speaker, “Judaism”s commitment to social justice is inspiring.” pic.twitter.com/1tgwwpOiFI
— Laura JannerKlausner (@LauraJanklaus) January 28, 2015