Gidi Grinstein

21st century tikkun olam

If they work together, Jews can make a significant difference in the lives of hundreds of millions of people the world over

Fourteen million people improving the lives of a quarter of a billion of the world’s poorest within one decade, through the combined efforts of the State of Israel and Diaspora Jewry — this audacious vision, set forth by the Reut Institute and the Alliance for Global Good, entails that the Jewish people would become the highest per-capita contributor to humanity at its frontiers of food, water and energy security. Tikkun olam is not only a moral obligation stemming from Jewish tradition; it can also serve to benefit Israel’s security, drive economic development and improve societal cohesion.

We read in the Torah that through our forefather Avraham, “all the nations of the earth are to be blessed” (Genesis 18:18). This ancient vision guided the Jewish people for millennia. In the twentieth century, David Ben-Gurion famously referred to “a great historic privilege, which is also a duty… helping to solve the central problems of all humanity.” These words frame Israel’s mission, beyond solving the predicaments of the Jewish people. Additionally, Ben-Gurion called for Israel to embody the aspiration to be an or lagoyim, a light unto the nations.

Traditionally, being a blessing among the nations of the earth meant that the Jewish people would fulfill their covenant with God through their religious observance and thereby bring the sacred into the world. The modern take on this ideal is that Jews will repair the world – tikkun olam – through societal innovation, by providing leadership, resources and practical solutions to global problems.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, Israel and the Jewish Diaspora face this privilege, duty and opportunity in unprecedented starkness: together, we can make a significant difference in the lives of hundreds of millions of people. Yet, realizing this audacious vision requires a plan and a coalition of forces for good. Israel should become a hive of international development and a destination for leaders of developing societies the world over, for formative personal and professional experiences. Concurrently, Diaspora Jewry must deploy its human and financial resources, as well as its political clout, toward this endeavor.

Furthermore, we need a fundamental change in the discourse about tikkun olam and in its mode of implementation, prioritizing qualitative, highly leveraged strategic interventions over labor-intensive volunteer-based efforts. We need to focus on areas where Jews offer a unique value proposition — one which addresses acute global needs — and on countries and territories that struggle with providing food, water and energy security. And we need to collaborate across the governmental, non-governmental and business sectors to develop “clusters” in areas that address acute global needs. Our agents of change should be local leaders who go through a formative personal and professional experience in Israel.

Beyond the moral imperative to make the world a better place, we are also guided by the pressing needs of our present and future: to strengthen the legitimacy of the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in its nation-state, to propel Israel’s economy and ensure that this growth is inclusive, and to enhance Jewish peoplehood by strengthening the ties among all world Jews. Making an indelible contribution that is distinctly Jewish and Israeli will serve all of these purposes.

Under the banner of 21st Century Tikkun Olam (#21CTO), at the coming General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America (GA) in Baltimore (#JFNAGA), on Monday, November 12, 2012, we hope to take this vision to the next level. The vision of 21st Century Tikkun Olam was designed in deliberation with lay leaders, professionals, activists and academics. Now, this community must join forces in effectuating change.

Fourteen million Jews improving the lives of a quarter of a billion people within a decade is evidently ambitious. However, less than two decades ago, Birthright Israel, too, was judged as audacious. Birthright is now a reality transforming an entire generation. Its success inspires our confidence that the vision of 21st Century Tikkun Olam can and will be realized.

About the Author
Gidi Grinstein is the founder and president of the Reut Institute, an Israel-based strategy and action group focused on effectuating change in areas critical to Israel’s future. He is the author of Flexigidity: The Secret of Jewish Adaptability.