Bearing Witness

Yesterday, we had the exciting opportunity to speak to the participants at Impact: Boston, the summer program where we all met. The program’s focus is service learning and social justice. I think I speak for all three of us when I say that this program is an important part of our journey to becoming self proclaimed activists, so we were thrilled to be back. We told the teens about our project, the stories we’ve heard, the lessons we’ve learned, and the steps we took to make this journey a reality. It was really nice to be part of that community again and to show the teens they’re really not too young to advocate for what they believe in.

There is a beautiful story in Judaism about the creation of the world (it’s relevant, I promise).

Before creation, God’s presence filled the universe. When God decided to bring the world into being, he needed to make room for creation. He drew in his breath, contracting himself and creating darkness. When God said, “Let there be light” (Gen. 1:3), the light filled the darkness and ten holy vessels came forth, each filled with the divine light. Had the vessels arrived intact, the world would have been perfect, but they were too fragile to contain such a powerful and divine light. The vessels shattered and shards of divine light were scattered throughout this world. Mankind was created to gather the shards, no matter where they were hidden, and restore the vessels, thus repairing the world and completing tikkun olam*.

This story isn’t just for Jews. As human beings, we have a responsibility to repair the world – to collect these shards of light, and piece the world back together.

After our presentation, Shimshon, the program’s director, spoke about this idea that through our project, we are “bearing witness” (a phrase he heard from someone at Medicine Wheel in Boston). We are bearing witness by connecting with strangers and friends alike, and hearing their stories. In our interviews, we ask a few guiding questions and allow people to ask us questions as well, but we mostly listen. Some have told their story many times before, but for others, we are the first people they’ve really opened up to. By providing this safe space and community of listeners, we are allowing people to heal.

This idea of tikkun olam does not just apply to direct service, to giving and receiving. We all have a story. A collection of small moments, moments of impact, that when pieced together, define who you are. Each of our stories are the shards of light in this universe, and when we take the time to connect with others, whether they are like ourselves or far from it, we are collecting the shards needed to restore unity in this world. The simple act of listening – of bearing witness – creates a space for healing and a space for gathering those shards of light.

*tikkun olam is a phrase used to mean “repairing the world”

Renee

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One thought on “Bearing Witness

  1. Renee,

    I’m Claire’s friend from school (actually she was my Jewish residential college advisor… I really got lucky!) and I wanted to say this is a gorgeous blog post. You guys are wonderful and I love reading what you write. Thank you for sharing your gift with words and for all you’re doing to share stories.
    Xoxo
    Azza

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