Our city just condemned white nationalism. Here’s the torah that made it possible.

On Tuesday night, San Luis Obispo in California became the first city to officially adopt the CARE resolution — publicly condemning white nationalism and racism and holding elected officials to that standard. 

To celebrate their organizing victory, Bend the Arc: SLO leader Dona shared this moving D’var Torah about the spiritual role of the Mishkan and the power of collaboration in our mission for social justice.


This week’s Torah parsha, T’rumah, talks about creating a holy space (a Mishkan) so that God may dwell among us.

The Mishkan, building a sacred space, finding a place for God's Presence to be felt and experienced, must also happen in each generation and every community.

The parsha tells us how to build the Mishkan. This is a concrete example of Social Justice work.

In fact, some scholars think that God asked us to make something collectively so we would value something we did together. Because God doesn’t need a home on earth, God is at home everywhere. The effort that we put into something does not just change the object. It changes us.

In the Torah, to build the Mishkan, everyone who was willing could contribute, from whatever they had: “gold, silver or bronze, blue, purple or crimson yarns, fine linen, goat hair, red-dyed ram skins, fine leather, acacia wood, oil for the lamp, balsam oils for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, jewels for the breastplate and so on. Some gave their labour and skills. Everyone had the opportunity to take part: women as well as men, the people as a whole! Together!

For me, Mishkan, a place where God dwells and the image of God in all people abides, would be a multi-racial democracy and economy. A place where all people have access to opportunities, value, respect and no one ever was afraid to walk through life as who they are—Black, Brown, disabled, LGBTQ, Jewish, Muslim or immigrant. All people would have cultural, economic and political resources and power. (Wow, that has never existed before!)

When I close my eyes and imagine a multi-racial democracy, I see a vast tent or Mishkan with light and love that fills my heart and there is room for all of us. In this Mishkan everyone experiences justice, compassion and wholeness. We feel and live our oneness as humanity. And there is abundance. The hate and meagerness of the soul that pits people against each other and manifests in racism, sexism, ageism, and all isms that are borne and feed through dark places is replaced with gentleness and grace.

Many of us have this same vision for our future and we share our Jewish precepts of repairing the world, and planting seeds for further generations. It’s why many of us come to social justice work. To build that Mishkan!

In order to build that multiracial democracy and economy here in SLO, we need all of our varied abilities, talents, outcomes, actions and work to move us towards our ultimate goal: a better world for all people. Social Justice work is feeding the homeless, packing backpacks for food insecure families, effecting criminal justice reform, tackling immigrant rights through lobbying members of Congress and calling out elected and appointed officials that use hate-filled imagery and language to divide us. We need food drives and non-violent direct actions! Banner drops, roadblocks and backpacks for hungry families! Sit ins, teach ins and scholarships!

All these tasks, committees, actions, valued relationships with our partners and communities need to coexist concurrently for our vision of the Mishkan to take shape.   Working together and with each other!

I think, now, I know it is the time for all of us to link arms with our allies, neighbors, family and community to create a space where we all have the safety, peace, comforts and freedom to live in the sacred and feel the expansiveness of justice so we can honor the image of God in all of us.

Let it Be God’s Will!

Dona adds the following note:

Please accept my profound gratefulness if your work has been used in this D’var Torah without a citation. The notepad with my musings was a mashup of Torah commentary, Join For Justice training notes and my obsessive reading and listening to all things Malcolm Gladwell.