Tikkun Olam is a Hebrew phrase meaning “the repair of the world.” It has its roots in Rabbinic law, the Kabbalah and the Aleinu prayer, and became a common term for Jewish social justice work and community contribution in North America following the Shoah (Holocaust).
On Nov. 29, Alex Leslie, a registered social worker who holds a master’s degree in social work, travelled from Vancouver to Kamloops to give a speech on Tikkun Olam. After achieving her MSW from UBC, she transitioned to work as an addictions counsellor. Leslie spoke to the social work class “Theory and Ideology of Social Work,” in Old Main on the Thompson Rivers University campus. The speech was organized by Wendy Hulko and blessings were offered by Jeffrey McNeil-Seymour and Estella Patrick Moller.
During her presentation, Leslie described her experiences with Tikkun Olam during the study she conducted. Participants in her study spoke to the imperative to act and the existence of responsibility; the connections between external healing and internal healing; collectivity and interconnectedness; the presence of Jewish history in their work, particularly in the case of the Shoah; and the spiritual dimension of working with people. This study also explored the commitment felt by Jewish practitioners to work with Aboriginal people based on a shared history of cultural genocide.
During an interview with Leslie, she said Tikkun Olam “is the principle that we all have a responsibility to contribute to justice or improvement in the world and society. Tikkun Olam is relevant everywhere. We live in a time of mounting persecution of minority groups which makes it more important to talk about. Tikkun Olam is also relevant to everyone because we all have a responsibility to contribute to the world in a unique way.”
After Leslie’s presentation, I spoke with some of the students in attendance. Jonah Kristensen, a third-year BSW student, said he “thought that the presentation was extremely excellent and it was a very good capstone to a very busy and interesting school year.”
Jenna Skogberg, also a third-year BSW student, spoke to the conversation she had with Alex Leslie after the presentation, commenting on “how powerful it is to link up two different peoples and histories through a shared journey that they have.” Skogberg was referring to Jewish people and the Indigenous people of Canada.
Tikkun Olam is an ancient practice that can be attributed to many aspects of current society. Understanding the elements of Tikkun Olam can be the first steps in the process of creating a thriving community. This practice promotes the healing of the individual and community as one. A person may rely on the community to heal, but then give back to the same community in return. As long as there is persecution and personal trauma in society, Tikkun Olam will still continue to be relevant.