Last summer, after hearing the news about the kidnapped boys, I felt trapped and alone. I desperately wanted to be with other people and feel like part of klal Israel (the Jewish nation). I did not want to cry and pray all by myself. My friends made plans to attend this public prayer or that community event, but I was home with my kids, so what was I to do? Never did parenthood feel so restrictive. I yearned to be with my people, but felt doomed to process this new catastrophe all by myself. Why, oh why, I wondered, does no one arrange an event for mothers and children?
And then it hit me. Eureka! I could arrange such an event! Several hours and many Facebook posts later, five women and four children joined us in our apartment. We prayed, cried, and talked. We were together. I was no longer alone in this: I had my piece of klal Israel right there in my living room.
A few months later, I experienced a similar eureka moment under very different circumstances. The daily newspaper Yediot Ahronot reported the rape of a fifteen-year-old girl, in an extremely insensitive way. The article opened with the statement “If only she would have screamed or fought back, it could have ended completely differently.” That morning, my Facebook feed filled with angry posts. My own feelings matched the general outrage. How could they even suggest that the innocent girl was responsible for her own rape? Well, I thought to myself, someone is bound to write a letter to the editor and collect signatures on Facebook. I’ll join such an initiative once it takes place.
I went about my day, checking Facebook occasionally to see if such a letter was in the works. Why has no one drafted a letter yet, I thought, what’s taking them so long? I literally had to sit down when the realization hit me: I can do it! I see what needs to be done, so why not do it myself?
By the time I sent the letter, hundreds of people signed it. The editor sent us a detailed apology. Under the combined weight of many such letters, Yediot Ahronot published a heartfelt apology and promised their readers to be more sensitive in the future.
In both cases, my actions made very little difference in the big picture, but a world of difference in my own experience. Tragically, our boys did not come home. And my contribution to the public campaign against Yediot Ahronot’s article was minuscule. But because I took initiative and addressed the needs which I recognized, I no longer felt helpless, angry, or alone. My actions resonated with other people who felt like me, and united us in a communal effort. We engaged directly with the world instead of complaining from the sidelines. We took control.
I like this proactive version of myself, I reflected on those occasions. This is who I want to be all the time.
Sadly, I often fail. I sometimes feel like all I talk about with my socially conscientious friends is how problematic everything is. Is this abundance of self-scrutiny a Jewish thing? Is it natural in a young society that is still struggling to find its way? Regardless of the reason, I don’t like what happens to me when I become too preoccupied with criticism. “It’s so bad,” I say, “the future is so dark.” And I no longer have the energy to try and change anything. I no longer notice positive trends and opportunities for action. I lean against the wall with my friends, watching the scene in detachment and tired disdain.
The contemporary American philosopher Michael Waltzer distinguished between two archetypes of social critics. The first washes his hands of his society contemptuously, patting himself on the back for his superior point of view. The second, the “connected” critic, feels responsible for his society and wants to amend the problems he sees.
I want to be a “connected” critic, who actually tries to do good. I want to be the version of myself that surfaced when I felt alone with my pain in the summer, and when I was angry with Yediot Ahronot. I want to break away from the comforts of mere social criticism, and work towards a better future. But it’s hard. It is much easier to be a critic than to be an activist. It is much easier to say “this is a problem, someone should do something about it,” than to say “I will do something about it now.”
In order to keep my inner critic “connected” and proactive, I decided to set out on a new journey. I decided to seek out organizations and individuals that recognized a need in our society and addressed it, instead of merely complaining about it. I hope that they can inspire me to be more than a detached critic. I hope that they will inspire me to be the activist version of myself, and foster positive changes.
For the next several weeks, I will review such organizations and post my reviews every Tuesday. My journey already introduced me to some amazing initiatives. Imakadima helps career-oriented mothers, for example, and The Jerusalem Village helps young immigrants and tourists to feel at home in Jerusalem. I can’t wait to find out what other inspiring organizations proactively change society as I write.
If you want me to review a specific organization, or if you are curious to find out what organizations address a specific problem, please share your thoughts in the comments and I’ll try to look into it. Expect a new post every Tuesday.
See my reviews so far: