Speaker of the House of Commons, The Rt Hon John Bercow MP hosted the launch of Tzelem – a unique cross-denominational Jewish clerical campaign group featuring a number of Reform rabbis and cantors on Wednesday 28 January. Dedicated to speaking out against injustice, Tzelem will reassert Judaism’s rich and vibrant tradition of social justice activism.
With over 60 rabbis and cantors in attendance, as well as cross-party representation from both parliamentary houses. Personal testimonies on pressing issues ranging from mental health to homelessness and child poverty to immigration were given by four rabbis. A unique shofar ritual called attendees to action. It was introduced by Cantor Zöe Jacobs who noted that the shofar has become a ritual “encouraging its listeners to stir, to wake up, to pay attention, to change their ways.”
The Speaker, The Rt Hon John Bercow MP said: “I welcome the initiative by Tzelem to speak up for the cause of social justice. This is a non-partisan campaign designed to highlight some of the endemic problems that the country faces and to argue for policies which will tackle injustice and promote greater opportunity and social mobility.”
Rabbi Jeff Berger says: “We are seeing in our community families who are struggling financially, we are also seeing other forms of social distress that really require a proactive response.”
In response to the shofar call Rabbi Jonathan Romain says: “it is not just about helping individuals – it is about changing structure.”
Explaining why being involved in Tzelem matters to him, Rabbi Aaron Goldstein said: “In Hillingdon we have a dreadful situation with mental health issues, a number of our congregants have committed suicide in the last couple of years and increasingly our members are facing depression and other mental health issues. It is difficult for me to do it on my own and Tzelem allows us to tackle these issues together.’
Tzelem is founded on the Jewish principle that we are all created b’tzelem elohim – in the image of God. Tzelem is inspired by Jewish teaching and a long tradition of fighting social and economic injustice. This tradition dates from the Hebrew prophets to the American civil rights movement and anti-apartheid campaigns in South Africa, both of which included a strong Jewish presence.