Tikkun Olam as a Way of Life

At Congregation Beth Jacob on 26 April 2009, Neil gave the following speech as Nagymama and Nagypapa were presented the Chesed Award.

A few years ago, Rabbi Ezray shared a story with me about a meeting at which congregants debated whether Beth Jacob should participate in the Interfaith Hospitality Network program for homeless families in San Mateo County. Everyone in the room agreed these homeless people needed a place to stay. However, some had concerns that the homeless might damage the facility, disrupt normal operations, create additional costs and cause other inconveniences. The debate continued until one congregant unexpectedly announced he too had been homeless, without any money, food or shelter. The congregant made a passionate statement about the templeís obligation to Tikkun Olam and reaching out to the community. That congregantís courageous admission ended the debate and, since that time, Congregation Beth Jacob has been a part of the very successful Interfaith Hospitality Network program. That homeless man was my dad Ė George Heller.

My parentsí Tikkun Olam projects arenít really projects at all. They are the daily activities in their lives, practiced with every single action they take. Where did they learn this practice? Likely from the examples that were set by their parents. I can only imagine what it was like to grow up in either of my parentsí homes. My fatherís father dropped out of school in 6th grade to support his family when his father died. He eventually established a printing business where he employed many of his family members, enabling each of them to earn a living. During World War II, my motherís parents took in and cared for other peopleís children.

Our family values education and lifelong learning as the highest priority. Both my parents have become educators. My dad introduced both the blind, high-school and pre-school students to computers in the early 1960s. My mom taught English as a second language to expatriates and French to elementary school children. More recently, they have taught seniors how to use their computers for desktop publishing and photo editing at the Redwood City Senior Center.

In the past few years, my parents have been teaching the rest of us never to forget the atrocities of the Shoah, commemorated this past week. They visit schools, sit for interviews, answer questions, and write about their experiences. Each of their messages can be simply stated. My Momís message: ďpeople are far more important than possessionsĒ, and my Dadís: ďwhile we canít always control what happens to us, we can control how we react.Ē

My parents say they retired in the early 90s from their paid professional careers and became full-time Tikkun Olam practitioners. Hereís just a glimpse into their Tikkun Olam activities:

The list goes on and on.

Tikkun Olam comes from one of our most famous and well known prayers, the Alenu, which is recited daily: l'takain olam, repair the world. As members of our community, my parents have taught by example with their daily Tikkun Olam practices. Perhaps the most significant lesson they have taught us is really quite simple: Give yourself to your family and give yourself to your community. Itís through our daily actions that each one of us makes our world a better place.

You are very kind to honor my parents tonight with the Chesed Award. While my parents very much appreciate this very important recognition, I believe that George and Iby would be most honored by the Congregation Beth Jacob Community if each you would weave Tikkun Olam into your lives as daily practitioners with as much time, love, passion, and commitment.

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