In Pursuit of Justice

Rabbi Rachel Cohen, a new rabbi in a wealthy New Jersey congregation, seeks greater accountability for the youth Mitzvah Projects.

Case Excerpt

The full case is comprised of an (A) Case and a (B) Case.

Above the doorway at Temple Beth El, the words read Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof – “Justice, Justice, You Shall Pursue.” Yet Rabbi Rachel Cohen wondered if the varied efforts in pursuit of justice at the large New Jersey synagogue were central enough to the life of the congregation and if they were making a real impact. Never was this more evident to the assistant rabbi than in the Mitzvah Projects tied to the B’nai Mitzvah program. Cohen described many of the efforts as “lame”: often, kids placed collection boxes at the synagogue with a hastily scrawled sign reading “book donations” or “food donations”; others organized bake sales to benefit a randomly selected charity. Often, with tutoring, soccer, and learning the Torah portion, the hours that were supposed to be dedicated to social action simply never happened. Cohen explained, “There is no accountability. It isn’t like there won’t be a Bar Mitzvah if you don’t prove you’ve completed the 10 hours of service required.” Mitzvah projects didn’t seem to be a priority for kids, parents, or clergy. Cohen was frustrated but also saw an opportunity: with so little thought or investment given to the Mitzvah Projects, she thought, “They should be easy to change.”[1]

Discussion Questions

1. What are Rabbi Cohen’s primary concerns about the B’nai Mitzvah program? How should she prioritize these?

2. Based on the brief case opening, and your own knowledge of religious communities, which stakeholders might Rabbi Cohen consider when making a change to the B’nai Mitzvah program? Of these, which group is most important?

3. Rabbi Cohen reflects that addressing this issue should be “easy.” What barriers might she face? What additional information do you think she needs—or do you hope to find in the case narrative—in order to come up with a plan?



Expand for Citation

[1]All quotes from interviews conducted by the author Elinor Pierce with “Rabbi Rachel Cohen” (pseudonym) in December 2010.