Jewish Values and Heritage

In 1938, the Vocational Service of the Associated Jewish Philanthropies (now CJP) was founded to help refugees from Austria and Germany gain skills, secure jobs, build careers, and begin to achieve the American dream. For its entire 80 years, Jewish Vocational Service’s mission and services have been guided by a set of important values about social justice and the value of work, which while universal, are enhanced by traditional Jewish teachings. JVS’s Jewish values are important to understand and elucidate, because they are our legacy from the Jewish community.

Jewish Vocational Service’s mission in the Jewish and broader Boston community stands on the foundation of several important values.

Tikkun Olam – The Repair of the World

As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes, in giving meaning to the idea of Tikkun Olam, “As long as there is hunger, poverty, and treatable disease in the world there is work for us to do. As long as nations fight, and men hate, and corruption stalks the corridors of power; as long as there is unemployment and homelessness, depression and despair, our task is not yet done, and we hear, if we listen carefully enough, the voice of God asking us, as he asked the first humans, ‘Where are you?’”

The value of Tzedakah

Tzedakah is usually translated as charity, though it is derived from the Hebrew word meaning “justice” or “righteousness.” JVS’s particular focus on “skills, jobs and careers” is rooted in important Jewish teachings on the value of work. Maimonides writes that there are eight degrees of tzedakah, one higher than the other. The highest degree is that of the person who assists another in finding employment and helps to release another from dependency and poverty to achieve independent self-sufficiency.

The value of loving the stranger

JVS’s history of providing skills, jobs, and careers for Jewish and other immigrants also has an important and very relevant narrative, both because of the Jewish community’s own immigrant experience in the United States, which helps the community understand other immigrants’ challenges, and its long-standing values captured in Jewish text.

For example, not once or twice, but many times the Torah tells us: “Do not oppress the stranger.” Indeed, we are urged to “love the stranger in our midst.” Many interpret the word “stranger” to mean the newcomer, the refugee, or one who is outside the mainstream, and it is with this that JVS’s work welcomes and supports the “stranger,” whether an immigrant, a refugee, a low-income individual, an unemployed worker, or someone with a disability.