TAKUM Currently Facilitating Three Betei Midrash

Beit Midrash TAKUMEngaging community professionals and grassroots volunteers in Israel and abroad through a nine-month, international social justice program integrating in-depth Jewish learning with activism.

TAKUM is a partnership with Yeshivat Talpiot, an egalitarian yeshiva committed to facilitating critical, open engagement with Jewish text and social crisis as a means of influencing activism. TAKUM, hosted at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv University, seeks to bring Torah study to the streets in ways that urge action on behalf of others in need. This year, the project’s third, study and public service are focused on aiding Israel’s refugees and asylum seekers, as well as victims of prostitution and human trafficking.

This spring brings new energy to Beit Midrash TAKUM with the launch of two new cohorts: one in Jerusalem for established, experienced young professionals already involved in fields of social change, and the other for young students from Tel-Aviv University.

The Jerusalem cohort of 13 Fellows from diverse religious and cultural backgrounds work as teachers, social workers and community organizers. Some have previous experience in Beit Midrash learning.

The Tel-Aviv cohort of eight Fellows from Tel-Aviv University is quite different. All come to the Beit Midrash without experience with Jewish text study. All Fellows in this cohort volunteer in three Tel- Aviv NGOs working with refugees and asylum seekers, including:

Simultaneously, TAKUM’s first Jerusalem cohort of religiously diverse university students and recent graduates with minimal activist experience began in October 2015. Fellows in this cohort (as in the Tel- Aviv group) receive a modest stipend for their participation; undertake serious volunteer roles in lieu of tuition; and assist with refugee relief efforts and as part of ATZUM’s Task Force on Human Trafficking and Prostitution. This cohort is currently deeply involved in its volunteer work.

In March TFHT Fellows collaborated with student activist groups to organize a Hebrew University hosted public debate on prostitution in Israel society. Panelists included MK Shuli Mualem from Bayit Yehudi, a religious Zionist political party, and three speakers from NGOs dedicated to stopping prostitution. The event enabled recruitment of new Project 119 activists. (Project 119 is TFHT’s weekly campaign pairing individual MKs and Government Ministers with volunteers urging passage of Nordic Model legislation. The time commitment is minimal; the campaign’s impact is considerable.) The panel event effectively demonstrated to the TAKUM Fellows who organized the evening how they might impact public discourse.

Photo:  Avi Dabush, a community organizer and activist, addresses two TAKUM cohorts at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem in March 2016.

Photo: Avi Dabush, a community organizer and activist, addresses two TAKUM cohorts at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem in March 2016.

TAKUM – A Jewish Service Learning Program

TAKUM (Tikkun u’Mishpat/Restoring Justice) is an international service learning initiative linking Jewish learning with social activism by facilitating open discussion of Jewish text and humanitarian crisis.  TAKUM’s goal is to bring Jewish study to the streets in ways that urge thoughtful action on behalf of vulnerable others. TAKUM Fellows, in addition to learning, provide weekly volunteer hours to combat the declining respect for human rights Israel society has witnessed for far too long. 

This year, TAKUM’s third, 26 Jerusalem TAKUM Fellows are focusing their learning and service on aiding Israel’s refugees and asylum seekers and victims of prostitution and human trafficking, urgent concerns requiring our collective action. Cohort I includes university students and recent graduates with minimal activist experience.  Cohort II includes more established, experienced young professionals deeply involved in fields of social change. An additional 20 Fellows participating in a London-based, TAKUM-initiated cohort will focus on related human rights issues. 

Below are the reflections of two current Fellows learning and volunteering in Jerusalem:

Weekly learning with my TAKUM colleagues is like finding sane and safe haven — critical time to think deeply in the midst of life’s craziness.  Most of us are busy students and young activists, pre-occupied with our own lives. Coming to the beit midrash strengthens and inspires us toward action through weekly vibrant and open-hearted discussions.

In our first unit we focused on the subject of aniyei irkha, the poor within our midst. Delving into Biblical and Talmudic texts, and learning from contemporary thinkers, we discussed who is the ani/  the impoverished, and how we as a community relate to them. We studied Emmanuel Levinas (a 20th-century French Jewish philosopher who suggests ethics and respect for the other are “the first philosophy”); considered the concept and reality of Jerusalem as sacred and earthly city; and met with seasoned and visionary social activists.

We just finished a second unit which focuses on gender issues, particularly those which relate to women, virginity, prostitution and rape. In addition to dissecting traditional Jewish teachings, we studied modern feminist theory and considered data regarding the trafficking of women into and within Israel. We debated the role and limits of the judicial system in combating sexual assault versus the impact of education and educators on these issues.

Why is TAKUM learning important to my studies and humanity? The beit midrash consists of an intimate cohort of diverse and creative people willing to engage in brave, value-based conversations regarding Jewish culture and tradition, deeply relevant for our times.

Frima works and volunteers in Israel’s third sector

TAKUM: Tikun and Mishpat, repairing and securing justice – These are constructs and realities which resonate deeply. Our TAKUM cohort aspires to identify messages regarding justice and just action embedded in Jewish tradition and classical texts. We are committed individually and as a collective to revive their different meanings. As a law student at the Hebrew University, I feel my studies would be incomplete had I not joined the TAKUM community. The learning invites each of us to contribute to group discussions which consider the relevance of ancient texts to our lives.

However, there are difficult moments. The Torah does not only discuss social justice and aiding the poor. Many times, the text speaks to us in a language we do not want to hear; it proposes notions and values we do not want to accept. But actually, those are the moments of discomfort that create opportunities to really get to the heart of the matter.

Learning is not enough, and in TAKUM we act and volunteer. I chose to devote my time giving legal aid to refugees who are summoned to Holot (a forced detention facility). Here, as in the beit midrash, I hear the voices of our traditions: “And a stranger you shall not oppress, for you know the heart of a stranger, seeing you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 23, 9)

Evyatar studies law and cognitive science at Hebrew University.

TAKUM is a joint initiative of ATZUM – Justice Works and Yeshivat Talpiot. It is funded by the Kathryn Ames Foundation, Elizabeth Scheuer, Peter Joseph and other donors wishing to remain anonymous. To support TAKUM, please CLICK.