Like many, I have spent the last week searching for inspiration as we reflect on 2016 and anticipate 2017.
Despite the great uncertainties and challenges which confront us — here at home, in Israel, and around the world — I am an optimist at my core, and while I am not a prognosticator, I do believe that we can move forward in a positive way.
Focused as I am on the Jewish communal scene, I am particularly concerned with how we interact with one another. How can we overcome the communal conflicts we face as this new year begins?
Since we each play a role and each one of us can make a difference, I have three suggestions for consideration that already are helping me stay optimistic. By doing so, I sincerely hope we can move forward into the year constructively and effectively.
First, I suggest we prioritize learning — taking time to reflect, to consider, and to grow.
Three weeks ago, I was humbled and honored to participate in a day of learning with the Jim Joseph Foundation in San Francisco in tribute to 11 years of outstanding visionary leadership by its founding executive director, Dr. Charles “Chip” Edelsberg. Spending the day of reflection with some of the leading Jewish academics, philanthropic professionals, and board leaders, we considered risks taken, results generated, and lessons learned. Our interactions with each other that day were honest, direct, and data-driven, and revealed a yearning for continuous improvement, individually and organizationally.
In the rush of everyday life, we seldom take the time to learn from our experiences, to listen to each other, and to contemplate what could be. Doing so might channel our energies effectively in constructive, helpful ways.
Second, I believe deeply in the power of transmitting — in passing along our values from each generation to the next and modeling the example we want to be.
Forty-three years ago, parshat Vayigash 5734, I celebrated my bar mitzvah in Jerusalem. I am so blessed that my parents made this a priority for me (and for my brother, five years before) because this rite of passage forged a deep and lifelong connection to eretz Yisrael, medinat Yisrael, and am Yisrael — to the land, the state, and the people of Israel. While I did not highlight this in my bar mitzvah speech at the time, I recognize now the message of a strong connection between the diaspora and Israel as expressed in Vayigash. God tells Jacob not to fear taking his family down to Egypt, and promises to make them a great nation there and bring them back up to the land of Israel. Jacob made clear to his children that which was most important to him, and in doing so, he set an example to be emulated.
This past Shabbat, Rabbi Shmuel Goldin of Congregation Ahavath Torah in Englewood reminded us of the power of our actions. Our children — and I would expand to our neighbors, colleagues, and friends — are listening and watching not only to what we say, but also to what we do. We each can make a difference by the example we set.
Finally, I advocate strongly for participating — for getting or staying involved in something you find meaningful, and for remaining part of the process.
What will be the implications of the recent U.N. resolution? Can anyone predict what will happen as the new administration settles into its new role? How will the increasing polarization of Israeli society affect its relationship with the diaspora?
To overcome some of our uncertainties and challenges as we enter 2017, we can’t just sit back. We must participate actively if we are to repair and heal our world. From my perspective, we must work together in partnerships and collaborations as we break down barriers that divide us. New social entrepreneurs are bringing new alternatives and approaches to foster engagement and activism, in some cases within existing institutions; innovation succeeds through involvement and participation.
When it comes to how we can increase participation, I look to the Reform movement as a model with its call for “audacious hospitality” or for what others refer to as “radical inclusivity.” For me, the message is clear: we are far stronger when we include everyone and participate together — recognizing, respecting, and welcoming differences in our collective community.
As we enter the new year, I am excited to help all of us move forward productively and meaningfully by learning, transmitting, and participating in a respectful, unified way.