The book, Tuesdays With Morrie, relates a story about a big wave and a little wave. The little wave is enjoying its beautiful day in the blue ocean until it sees the waves before it crash to the shore. The little wave, distressed, says, “We’re all going to crash! All of us waves will eventually be nothing. Isn’t it awful?” So the big wave says to the little wave “You’re not a wave; you’re part of that ocean.”
For me, that ocean is BBYO and even the larger Jewish community, and like the ocean we are a people that is constantly changing. Whether in terms of new people who we include in our communities or new history that we discover, the rich past and engaged present of the Jewish people provides endless opportunities for learning and growth.
It also provides opportunities for leadership — and I am understanding that best kind of leaders look toward the future, knowing that they might not necessarily sees the fruits of their labor.
Moses knew that he would never make it to the promised land so he did everything in his power to make sure that it would thrive just as Golda Meir worked valiantly to establish a homeland for Jews and in the 1970s and the many generations that would follow them. Just like those who have so fearlessly laid the ground that we now walk on, our future as Jews relies on what we do today, now more than ever.
The core value that sets Jewish leaders apart from others is an understanding of being part of something far larger than themselves, both literally and metaphorically. As a Diaspora community, we have the opportunity to connect with our brothers and sisters from all four corners of the earth every day. We may have different skin colors, speak different languages or possess conflicting beliefs, but we also are all part of the greater Jewish community and have the obligation to use each other as a resource. We do not live in isolation.
The more that we empower others to incorporate Judaism into their lives, whether that be religiously through a synagogue or culturally though a Jewish friend, the more we are providing a community that inspires. As Jewish teenagers begin to make decisions about whether and how to include Judaism in their life, our Jewish leaders must show us how important this community is. Seventy-five percent of teenagers fall out of Jewish life after becoming bar or bat mitzvah. The more we can engage Jewish teens in Jewish life, the more we ensure that there continues to be a global Jewish people who identify with and appreciate Jewish values to carry on our tradition to future generations.
Not only must Jewish leadership focus on the next generation, our leaders must ensure that we never stop learning. In a world that is constantly changing, we are a people that is constantly changing. Jewish leaders must constantly build new partnerships and collaborate with those around them in order to diversify our future and ensure that it is as inclusive as possible. As our people change, our leaders must adapt to new approaches that match the dynamic of our communities and our time.
With anti-Semitic remarks and actions becoming more common, we must show those committing and condemning these acts that the Jewish community is one, and that we will not hide in the face of hatred. We must show that we will continue going to the Jewish community centers and immersing ourselves in our rich culture and heritage. We must show that our community is one built with grit, tenacity, and determination to make the world a better place for all who inhabit it.
As a leader in BBYO, I am just one small wave in the ocean, but already I have learned that together with other waves I can make an impact through the work that I do to bring teens together, encourage them to learn about Judaism and help them to carry out Jewish values.