Social Action and Responsibility 2

  • 60 Minutes
  • Grades: 9-12
  • Lesson Plan

by: Mark Rosenberg

This lesson focuses on the Jewish obligation to reach out to help those who are less fortunate.


This lesson focuses on the Jewish obligation to reach out to help those who are less fortunate. It expands the concept of doing Chesed to include helping people throughout the world. Through text study, students will link the Jewish with particular reference to refugees. Students view a video about the Kindertransport to learn about the plight of refugees.

Lesson objectives

By the end of the lesson pupils will:

· Review the definitions of Tikkun Olam and Chesed

· Know that Judaism requires the performance of Chesed both to a Jew and non-Jew

· Understand that we are commanded to help strangers because we were once strangers

· Appreciate the importance that Judaism places on the performance of Chesed

· Appreciate the universal ideal of Chesed and Tzadakah as espoused in Judaism, which emphasizes “Tikun Olam” or healing the world of suffering and injustice

Resources & Equipment needed

“You and I Will Change the World”, song by Arik Einstein (available on YouTube –,

Student worksheets from Appendix

Kindertransport video (available from Teacher’s TV

Optional: speaker to talk about local refugees


1. Trigger: Play the song “You and I will Change the World” Hebrew Version by Arik Einstein. The aim of teaching the song is to inspire students to see that doing Chesed is not an individual activity alone but requires us working together to make a difference. Furthermore, our duty is not just to care for our own families and communities but for the world as a whole. This song is an opportunity to integrate some Hebrew into the lesson. First reviewing the lyrics in English and then Hebrew will further the students understanding of the song and its message. Lead a discussion about the song, using the teacher’s guide in appendix 1. To ease the transition from the song to the biblical text, the teacher should review the definition from the previous lesson of Chesed, the deeds of loving kindness that we do for another person. We will now examine the extent to we which we are responsible to help others and why, according to Judaism these acts are essential.

Suggested Discussion Q&A:

Why do you think this song focuses on two people changing the world? Can’t one person do a better job? Partners or a team can generally accomplish more than one person. Team members often complement each other. If one member of a team gets into difficulty, the second member can help, etc.

What do you think the verse “Others have said it before/It doesn’t matter” mean? People may have tried before and failed, but their experiences do not necessarily mean that we will fail too. Alternatively, it could mean that others are putting the idealistic singer down by saying ‘it doesn’t matter’, i.e. that he will not succeed in his task.

Is it easier or harder to do something when someone tells you, “it doesn’t matter”? Sometimes negative energy makes a task harder but if you believe it what you are doing you have to push on. This could be a motivation; to do something that other people say can’t be done.

What do you think Rabbi Hillel from our first lesson would say about this song? This connects to his second question. We can also resolve the first question by the use of the “I ” pronoun, that the individual has learned how to balance his goals and work with others.

2. Text study: Bereishit 24:12-27 – The questions listed here can be completed independently, in chavruta or together as a class. The teacher’s guide in appendix 1 contains answers to the questions. This source reinforces the meaning of the word Chesed. In addition, this source is an important case study of reaching out to the strangers in our community. The teacher can emphasize that the servant learned these qualities from his master Avraham and are foundation traits of the Jewish people throughout history. Rivka is indeed the mother of Yaakov (Yisrael), the father of the 12 tribes of Israel. Let’s now study one of the key verses that succinctly states why we are obligated to do Chesed.

3. Text study: Shemot 2:30 – The previous source focused on an individual doing Chesed to a stranger, while this source emphasizes the obligation of the Jewish people to care for the stranger and the refugee. Our understanding of what it means to be a stranger motivates a Jew to welcome strangers into our community. Read the source and discuss with the class.

Suggested Discussion Points:

This message is mentioned explicitly 36 times in Tanakh.

Why is it important that we remember that we were strangers 4,000 years ago? Without remembering how we were once treated, we could become as callous and as harsh as those who sought to harass and embitter our ancestors. Especially with Judaism, our past experiences define who we are. As the saying goes: “we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us.”

What does it feel like to be a stranger? Is the Torah assuming that people will naturally aggrieve or oppress the stranger that it has to command not to do it? Feeling like a strange is uncomfortable and awkward. You do not know how things work and do not have an option to socialize or participate in activities because you have not been invited. The language of the text makes it seem that we will naturally make fun of or stare at someone who is different then us. The Torah therefore gives us multiple commands to act kindly to the stranger as well as reminding us that we too once felt that way and we must reach out to make that person feel more welcome.

When does a stranger stop becoming strange in a new place? What can we do to help someone feel welcome? A stranger often stops becoming strange when people know the person’s name, family history, likes and dislikes. By going over to introduce yourself and welcoming a new face to your school or synagogue it often releases the pressures a person might be feeling. By offering advice on the best pizza in the neighborhood or where to get school supplies gives a stranger a direction on how things work within your community.

This source reflects our experience within Egypt as a critical moment to remember how uncomfortable we were as newcomers. In short, we should be kind to refugees because once we were refugees and we know how difficult that experience was.

4. View video – If the Biblical story is too difficult to connect to, a more recent event might bring home the message. The Kindertransport: Goodbye Home is a free 30 minute download from It tells the story of the difficulties the Jewish European refugee children faced in the UK when fleeing the Holocaust. Since the video is very long, choose a section you want to share with the class. Alternatively, Yad Vashem offers a 10 minute video about the kindertransport of 1938. It is natural for students to think that their actions can not make a significant difference in the lives of others. The video, however, illustrates how individual actions can help ease the plight of refugees.

5. Conclusion: Conclude by linking the song, the texts and the movie – the importance of doing chesed and the difference small actions (and big) actions make.

5. Optional: Arrange for a speaker to speak about local efforts to help refugees adjust to their new lives.

6. Optional homework: Students should identify a song or a piece of art which they believe reflect the values of Chesed and Tikun Olam. They should bring the lyrics/a copy of the piece of art to class and give a five minute presentation on why they made this choice. Alternatively, students should write one paragraph why they chose the song/art. The songs/art pieces should be arranged with the explanations to create a class exhibit.

7. Extension: Refugee Action in Israel · Israel’s historical absorption of Refugees: · Check for current events updates on Israel and refuges from the Sudan