By: Rabbi Michael Rosenfeld-Schueler, Oxford Universities’ Jewish Chaplain

“A man in a boat began to bore a hole under his seat. His fellow passengers protested. ‘What concern is it of yours?’ he responded, ‘I am making a hole under my seat, not yours.’ They replied, ‘That is so, but when the water enters and the boat sinks, we too will drown.’” – Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai

I recently travelled to Ghana as University Jewish Chaplaincy’s ambassador alongside a group of British Jews who were volunteering for seven weeks as part of Tzedek’s Go Global programme. The initiative is an inspiring response to the world’s, and Judaism’s, greatest challenge – poverty in the developing world. Tzedek, a British-Jewish organisational charity places volunteers, who are mostly students and recent graduates, with local non-Jewish Ghanaian organisations.

As a rabbi, I inevitably turned my thoughts to the imperative of the collective Jewish responsibility to help those in need. And my thoughts were greatly enhanced by reading Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks’s To Heal a Fractured World and Jeffery Sachs’s The End of Poverty. Both of which helped me to make sense of the abject poverty which was all around me.

Michael + local resident

It pains me greatly as an Orthodox rabbi who struggles with these issues, that it is my own community’s apathy regarding Jewish social action which is contributing to the lack of assistance worldwide. Colleagues and students have too often told me that it is the Orthodox communities, leaders and individuals that either don’t prioritise helping the non-Jewish world, or see it as anathema to Torah values and ethics. This is extremely sad, particularly when the Orthodox community stands second to none in its ability to care for its own through gamach and chesed organisations which is indisputably remarkable and a huge achievement.  The question that I ask is does it have to be one or the other…?

 

Next Week: Find out Rabbi Michael’s thoughts as he learns about the work our partners are doing in schools, clinics, and rural villages in Ghana

To find out more about volunteering in Ghana, please visit: http://tzedek.org.uk/volunteering/the-ghana-project/