Maybe it’s time to think small. A counter intuitive statement in these times of turbulence, strife, and violence. Everywhere we look in the Jewish world, it would seem as if stress and angst dominate our life. At the Gaza border, balloons and kites, usually signs of joy, are turned into instruments of destruction and weekly attempted incursions are thwarted; how long before one of them is successful? Here at home it seems like maybe it’s not safe to go to work, school, or even shul. The dissonance between Diaspora Jewry and our Israeli brothers and sisters seems to be less driven by any one time-limited incident and more of a systemic reality. What is a good Jew to do? There is a well-worn-phrase think globally and act locally. But it might be time that we should think a little less globally and act a little more locally.
It is unlikely that anyone reading this piece (if there is anyone reading this besides my mother) has the wherewithal to single handedly effect gun legislation, tamp down the violence on the Gaza border, or meaningfully change the Twittersphere and its poisonous political discourse.
But as Jews and as humans, we also cannot just turn our backs on the problems we face as a community.
In the words of Rabbi Tarfon:
הוּא הָיָה אוֹמֵר, לֹא עָלֶיךָ הַמְּלָאכָה לִגְמֹר, וְלֹא אַתָּה בֶן חוֹרִין לִבָּטֵל מִמֶּנָּה
He used to say: It is not your responsibility to finish the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.
What are we to do? It’s all so overwhelming…how about if we all just take it one day at a time and choose to do one thing today and then another tomorrow—the next thing you know, you know something has changed, and that might just be you.
Here are five suggestions.
Vote. Vote for whom you want but also vote for whom you know. Don’t just pick Red or Blue; take the time to learn about those people, seek the public’s trust. Party labels are stand-ins for positions. Look at the candidates’ websites, watch their debates, read what they say, know who they are, find someone you trust, and VOTE. Everyone should always vote.
Choose a synagogue, any synagogue, and support it. Support it with your time, with your money, with your goodwill. Whether it is called a temple, a shul, a minyan, or a sacred space. Synagogues are where Jews come together to pray and learn and gather in times of joy and sorrow. We all need a place to turn to for answers or even for the questions. You can take a class, meet a friend, pray, or maybe even all three. But connect to your history, your culture, and your spirituality—you’d be surprised what you might find at your local synagogue.
Support Israel and do so in ways that connect you to the land and its people. Maybe it’s through political action or business, maybe it is through tzedakah, maybe it means taking a class either in person or on-line so that you can be a voice in her defense. But connect to other people who feel passionately about Israel and the central role in our lives…And of course, GO AND VISIT! It is expensive—but if you can figure it out, GO. There are trips for everyone; trips for moms and dads and volunteers and scholars and novices. Look really hard and I bet you can figure out how to get there. You’ll never be the same. The people you meet and the experiences you have will forever change you.
Join a Jewish organization in your community that is doing good work and support it—but don’t do it alone, bring your daughter or a friend. Volunteer together for an hour a month, go to a meeting once every other month, but connect to people who share your values—as a community we are desperately in need of connections. David Brooks writes in the New York Times Op-Ed pages on October 29th that the greatest ills of this society are not caused by philosophy but psychology. Humans need to be in touch with one another or we begin to lose our humanity. Connecting to others makes your life better and the world around you richer for that.
Ask your kids, your wife, your mother, a friend, a colleague at work the hard questions we often avoid. Or tell them something about yourself that you need to share. Ask them–What are you afraid of? What keeps you up at night? Do you believe in G-d? How can I be there for you in a way I haven’t before? These are anxious times for us all—and we all have trials that we too often go through in silence. Make an effort to let someone else be heard.
A talmid haham (Torah scholar) is not allowed to live in a city that does not have these 10 things: a beit din (law court) that metes out punishments; a tzedakah fund that is collected by two people and distributed by three; a synagogue; a bath house (mikveh ); a bathroom; a doctor; a craftsperson; a blood-letter; (some versions add: a butcher); and a teacher of children.” (Sanhedrin 17b)
In short, a Jewish life is one that is connected to others. You alone aren’t going to be able to repair this world; it is pretty broken, but you can think about how to make your little corner a little better and who knows if enough corners end up a little better…
This is dedicated to my father Paul Schlank z’l. May his Memory forever be a blessing. A man whose life’s work was about making his little corner of the world a better place for everyone he met.