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This blog is a place for dialogue on issues and actions relating to Boston's unique built environment and the preservation and continuing evolution of historic resources within it. My goal, as the Executive Director of the Boston Preservation Alliance, is to post timely, relevant and thought-provoking intelligence, ideas, and insights that will engage conversations, inform our actions, and broaden perspectives on preservation.

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Greg Galer, Executive Director, Boston Preservation Alliance

Executive Director

AllianceViews Blog

“Tikkun Olam” – Repairing the World in Our Own Small Way

April 21st, 2013  |  Posted by: Greg Galer

It has been obviously quite a strange week for Boston. Like everyone else, I’ve been struck by the resolve of the entire city: the resolve to do what we all know is right, whether that be to step forward and help others, to place the common good ahead of individual needs (we do live in the “Common-wealth” of Massachusetts, after all), and to thank and appreciate the people and all the wonderful aspects of our community.  Despite the terrible tragedy that occurred, it’s comforting to take solace that in a time when such sadness and terror occurred the good so far, far outshines the evil. Good work, kindness and efforts to improve ourselves as a community always are ultimately more powerful than the few who try to bring us down.

I was immediately struck amongst all the beautiful and thought-provoking words uttered over the last week of the comments of Cardinal Sean O’Malley who referenced the Jewish tradition of tikkun olam, the concept of repairing or healing the world – striving to leave the world better than we found it.  Given that this term comes from my traditions, and one that is not an uncommon theme in my congregation, I was pleased to hear it placed in a greater light at the Marathon Tragedy Healing Service.  For those unfamiliar, it to me is much like the good-old Golden Rule, a most basic of human precepts that if followed allows so many of our ideas about morality, law, and righteousness to flow from it.  If we all simply act as we would want others to act to us, if we seek in our actions to make ourselves and the world around us a better place, think of how improved all our lives and our society would be.

In modern times tikkun olam has been used to refer to social action work. The Jewish activities of tzedakah (charitable giving) and gemilut hasadim (acts of kindness), so long part of Jewish tradition as ways to improve the world and help our fellow man also include progressive approaches to social issues; volunteering, working for causes which you believe strongly improve the world and are examples of tikkun olam. These can be small simple acts of kindness at home or in your community, larger volunteer efforts, or even broader global-affecting social and political activities. The spectrum is huge.

For me, one of the reasons I have always worked in the non-profit sector, and in particular have focused on historic preservation issues is because I feel strongly that this work makes the world a better place. I generally don’t think of tikkun olam when I’m sitting at a meeting of the Boston Landmarks Commission or the BRA, when I’m discussing with a developer how to make his project better enhance the city’s special historic character, or when I’m in a neighborhood meeting discussing how we can best work together to save a historic church building so central to their community’s sense of self-identity.  But, in fact that really is what I do day-to-day – working in my small way to make our little slice of the world a better place.

Let us not forget that despite differences of opinion on so many items, from the small and insignificant, to the large and seemingly overpowering, that overall people are good. It is generally not helpful to focus on those on the opposite side of the table as evil, mean-spirited, greedy, or dishonest when they come with different ideas that may oppose our own. Remember each has his or her own perspective, and it is more helpful to consider their reasoning and try to convince them that there is a different way of seeing things — that there are options.  Perhaps by sharing perspectives and alternatives we can find an agreeable way that can make the world, our city, our community a better place for all.

It sadly takes event’s like this past week’s to remind us why we do the work we do.  I’m honored to have been given the opportunity to lead the Boston Preservation Alliance to do our part in improving our little corner of the world.  Boston demonstrated to the world this week it’s resolve, grit, and special character reflected in its people, traditions and special places. Let us work together to continue to improve the world and together heal the wounds of this past week.


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One Response

  1. Greg, thank you for this wonderful, thoughtful, & inspiring piece, we loved it!

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