The world needs us. Now.

It feels like yesterday, the day I found myself on the back of a pick-up truck, zig-zagging through the Sierra of Chiapas, in southern Mexico. The ride was anything but comfortable, yet I suddenly found myself overwhelmed by a feeling of abundance and couldn’t help but smile as the lush scenery passed by.

“Why do I feel like this?” I asked myself, somewhat taken aback by my own reaction. I wasn’t there on a leisure trip. As a matter of fact, this was my first humanitarian mission and  I was trying to ease the pain felt by thousands of people who´d lost everything due to Hurricane Stan.

Undoubtedly, somehow, destiny had played a role. But not only destiny. I´d stepped up and made a choice, a choice against indifference.

Everything had started a couple of days before: a news report came up on the televisión during my traditional  Thursday lunch with my friends. The images showed a significant part of the Mexican southeast submerged under water.  Thousands of people had lost everything.

That second, Fernando, a friend of mine, asked us, “Why don’t we go there and see how we can help?”

At that moment, I had 20-year-flashback to that fateful 19th of September of 1985 when an earthquake destroyed Mexico City and left thousands dead. I was 13 years old at that time, and a few days after the quake on Yom Kippur, I had gone with family to the Knis.

The tefilá was about to start when my father stood up from his chair and, in that robust and characteristic voice of his, addressed the mitpalelim: “Ladies and Gentlemen, Mexico needs us now. The history of our country is written as I speak. Only in adversity can we measure our brotherhood.”

His speech lasted, at most, two minutes, and ended with an enthusiastic response and a great collect to help those victims of the earthquake. It was an unprecedented effort. I stood there, looking up to him in admiration.  My heart was pounding.

Arriving in remote villages affected by Hurricane Stan in the state of Chiapas (2005)

Twenty years later, my father’s words came back to me as a source of inspiration and a call to action. It was this impulse that led me, in 2005, to start my work as a humanitarian activist. This is how I found myself on the back of a pick-up truck with two of my best friends, leading a convoy made of 200 tons of aid.

This was how the Jewish-humanitarian agency, CADENA, was born.

Since then, I´ve met thousands of people in different cultures. True, almost always in the midst of dramatic, harsh—and even absurd—circumstances.  But even this has led me to understand that, no matter how diverse the response is to challenges, we all share one thing in common: our desire to be happy.

We need to become partners in the pursuit of happiness, the most essential and universal human enterprise.  We should not lose sight of the fact that all our other projects—material and intellectual, individual and collective—all form part of the same overarching goal. They become transcendent only when we are able o dignify our human quality and generate ordinary happiness and wellness for all.

For me, this is the most important objective for the coming year. I sincerely hope that the year 5770 gives us enough opportunities to serve the other, to experiment and share happiness, and dignify our existence through acts of kindness and generosity. And most of all, I wish that we can pass this knowledge to our children. It´s not only about creating a better world for our children but creating better children for this world.

Shaná tová umetuká!

About the Author
Benjamin is the director of CADENA: a global Jewish humanitarian relief agency based in Mexico City.
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