Lizzo may not be Jewish, but she is establishing herself as a leading role model in the Jewish value of tikkun olam (aka, “repairing the world” through social and environmental justice).
Lizzo stole my heart years ago when, fortuitously, I first became aware of her music right after a huge break up. (Listening on repeat to her songs “Truth Hurts” and “Good As Hell” was one of my biggest acts of self-care during that time.) In fact, I’ve listened to her music and expressed my admiration for her so many times that my child is a big fan, too. (I remember a Lizzo song coming on the radio back when he was 5, and his cute little voice coming from the backseat, “Lizzo! She’s a queen.”) She is known not only for her endless talent (she can play a flute like it’s fucking magic), but also for the messages of self-compassion, body diversity, and body positivity she expresses through her music and her brand.
All this being said, I was deeply moved by Lizzo’s choice to use her recent “People’s Champion” acceptance speech at the 2022 People’s Choice Awards as a platform to introduce 17 incredible women activists who are changing the world through their work. And I was especially excited when she introduced one of these activists as a rabbi.
“When I first heard about this award, I was on the fence about whether I should accept,” Lizzo began her speech. “Because if I’m the People’s Champ, I don’t need a trophy for championing people, you know what I’m saying? I’m here tonight because to be an icon isn’t about how long you’ve had your platform. Being an icon is what you do with that platform. And ever since the beginning of my career, I’ve used my platform to amplify marginalized voices. So tonight, I am sharing this honor. Make some noise for the people, y’all!” A group of women then walked out onto the stage to stand around her as she introduced them one by one.
Among them was Rabbi Tarlan Rabizadeh, who Lizzo excitedly introduced while saying, “She is committed to building a bridge between Jewish people of all colors and backgrounds, and as an Iranian American, she is fighting to amplify the plight of the Iranian people.”
I must admit I hadn’t known about this incredible woman, Rabbi Tarlan Rabizadeh, or her important work before. Unfortunately, I feel this is in large part due to the marginalization of Jews of Color in our own progressive Jewish circles, where Ashkenazi voices often take center stage. So, who is this rabbi who appeared on stage with a three-time Grammy award winning music icon?
Rabbi Rabizadeh became the American Jewish University’s Vice President for Jewish Engagement in August 2022, after serving as the Director of Student Life at UCLA’s Hillel.
According to her bio on AJU’s website,”Rabbi Rabizadeh was ordained at Hebrew Union College-JIR, served as the Jewish Emergent Network Fellow at The Kitchen in San Francisco, and was a Milken Community High School faculty member…As a Persian Jew in an overwhelmingly Ashkenazi community, Rabbi Rabizadeh has made it her mission to bridge the gap between the communities, encouraging learning from other traditions and cultures. At UCLA, Rabbi Rabizadeh facilitated conversations between Ashkenazi and Mizrahi Jews on Jewish rituals and practices to help students understand each other’s perspectives and differences. She aims to create more meaningful and inclusive Jewish experiences across the North American Jewish community.”
In addition to her hefty list of qualifications and accomplishments, Rabbi Tarlan Rabizadeh just seems…cool. Like, really cool. Her Instagram feed is a collection of posts highlighting the plight of Iranian women (and more importantly, ways she’s helping others get involved and be aware), photos of her officiating weddings, and fun snapshots of her hanging out with friends and traveling. She’s super badass, but in an approachable rabbi-with-pink-streaks-in-her-hair way — like the Persian Jewish “it-girl” of the religious activist world. Scrolling through her social feed, I can envision a generation of young girls being inspired to grow up to be socially engaged kickass rabbis one day, especially Jewish girls of color. (Heck, I’m even considering it suddenly.) In addition to all this, it’s even more impressive that she was only recently officially ordained back in 2018, and is already making such an immense impact.
Lizzo’s choice to highlight Rabbi Rabizadeh feels really deliberate and well-researched. Including a Jewish woman of color right next to her on stage is particularly important during a time when most of the headlines in the media are proclaiming the latest antisemitic comments of yet another celebrity. Lizzo’s gorgeous allyship is better than any Hanukkah gift I could have hoped for this year.
I’m grateful to Lizzo for using her platform to elevate tikkun olam in such a powerful way — and for introducing me to one of my latest Jewish heroines and role models (maybe girl crush, too?). On so many levels, Lizzo’s actions to make the world a better place have truly done just that. Not to mention, it’s a great reminder that anything can be elevated to be an act of tikkun olam, and by anyone. To riff off the singer’s own lyrics: “It’s about damn time” we come together to change the world, and bring awareness to the women who are doing the work to make it happen.
You can watch the acceptance speech and see Rabbi Tarlan Rabizadeh honored in the video below: