A Legacy of Advocacy

When my father – of blessed memory – passed away immediately following Rosh Hashanah a year ago, many who came to pay their respects and offer words of comfort intoned a traditional supplication: that he serve as a “melitz yosher” – a righteous advocate – for the Jewish people in Heaven above. For my father, zal, that role would not represent much of a departure from the one he discharged with love, dignity and loyalty throughout the six decades he served the Jewish community.

Reflecting on his role as an advocate as we approach Rosh Hashanah and the first anniversary of his death, my thoughts turned to the concept of advocacy in Jewish tradition – not surprising, given my choice to devote my life to advancing the interests of the Jewish community.

What was surprising was my failure until now to recognize a clear pattern in Jewish history. Advocacy represents a quintessential Jewish value and attribute. Think of our Patriarch Abraham passionately advocating for the rescue of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah despite their appalling human rights record. Consider the archetypical advocate, Moses, who pressed the case for the Children of Israel relentlessly throughout the forty years of his leadership. Recall, the heroism and skill of Queen Esther, who sought the salvation of her people at great peril to her own safety.

Two thoughts seem especially relevant to our circumstances and the challenges we face today.

First, that the commitment expressed by those great leaders of old was unconditional. In the case of Moses, his interventions came precisely when the Jewish people were guilty of the most serious offences against G-d.  In the case of Abraham, those on whose behalf he was petitioning G-d were not members of his family, not even members of his tribe. And in the case of Queen Esther, her intervention saved the Jews dispersed throughout the Persian Empire from certain death.

Second, despite the opportunity to evade or dodge serving in that advocacy role, each felt obliged to make the effort, a responsibility to influence and shape the outcome to the benefit of others.

All of us have opportunities to pick up that mantle today and continue in that tradition of making a difference, of effecting a change, of serving as an advocate. The advocacy effort can be directed towards support for the State and People of Israel. For those of us in the Canadian Jewish community, it can focus on aiding the vulnerable and disenfranchised across Canada. It can contribute to fostering respect and harmony between faith and ethnic communities. Or it can strengthen the fight against antisemitism and all forms of discrimination and hatred.

There are many advocacy options from which to choose, save one: the refusal to engage. The option of standing on the margins, of not offering a contribution, or failing to pick up the chain of our advocacy tradition represents the antithesis of Jewish values.

So as we enter into that annual period of reflection and hope heralded by Rosh Hashanah, let each of us resolve to serve as the next link in the chain…the legacy of Jewish advocacy. 

About the Author
Based in Ottawa, Shimon Koffler Fogel is President and CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) - the advocacy agent of Canada's Jewish Federations.