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Birthdays

It is by the grace of many people reading this email that Hazon exists. Though I do not say it specifically in every email, I want those of you who support Hazon – individual supporters; foundation staffers; federation donors; board members; staff members – to know that I think about this each day. A non-profit is a trust, in which many people come together, loosely and in all sorts of different ways, in order to accomplish something in the world – to touch people’s lives, to bring new ideas to fruition, to shift the nature of what it means to be Jewish or American or Israeli, to help us live more carefully on this our only planet.

In leading Hazon I’m aware of both the fragility and the potential durability of a non-profit, as a vessel for the hopes and the visions of so many. I gave a donation for Manchester Grammar’s 500th anniversary this year: my school survived the English Civil War unscathed, even though the English monarchy did not. I don’t know if the USA will exist in 2136, but I imagine that Harvard, which is due to celebrate its 500th birthday that year, and which has an endowment currently in excess of $30 billion, certainly will. A month ago I heard the mayor of one of Israel’s biggest cities, talking to a small group of people, respond to the question, “What’s your vision for [your city] in thirty years’ time?” He answered, “I can’t answer that question because I don’t think Israel will be here in thirty years, we’ll rip ourselves apart before then…” It was the day after the elections and he was having rather a bad day, but it was a shocking and sobering thing to hear, and an interesting coda to today’s Yom Ha’Atzma’ut (Israel’s Independence Day) celebrations.

My point is that we cannot assume the permanence of institutions, nor of societies or countries; they require our ongoing commitment to preserve and protect them. In a centrifugal era we need centripetal commitments. I would not have mourned the fall of the Assad regime in Syria – odious, murderous – and yet I have only compassion for the Syrian people right now. They have ended what came before, but I do not know when or how they will again find themselves living in the peace and safety many of us are able to take for granted. I remember during the civil war in Lebanon, many years ago, dining with a friend who had lived in Beirut in the fifties, and who spoke of what a wonderful city it was. We break things much more easily than we put them back together.

Jewish tradition lends itself to an awareness of the juxtaposition of the long sweep of history and the sharp cycles of societal change. Lecha dodi is perhaps 500 years old. Adon Olam is a thousand years old. Aleinu, Kiddush, – 2,000 years old. But in 1948 – when the State of Israel was founded – there were more Jews in the Bronx than in the State of Israel. The population of Baghdad in 1930 was a third Jewish – more Jewish than Manhattan is today. Can you imagine that? Jews have lived in Afghanistan continuously for 1,500 years, but today Zablon Simintov is the last Jew in Kabul.

Earth Day, yesterday, comes to remind us that forests, fish stocks, trees, aquifers – all are ancient miracles, all durable, all fragile. They can withstand much, but they cannot withstand everything. I find it satisfying, as a guy, to stand at the seashore and pee into the Pacific Ocean, trying to calculate my infinitesimal impact; but the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a different matter entirely.

So I’m grateful to each of you for the role that each of you plays in Hazon and in our wider communities. Effecting change requires ongoing eco-systems of support and of good faith. Non-profits, communities, synagogues; the USA, Israel, the Jewish people; each culture of which we are part is influenced by us each day, for good or ill, in countless ways. May our anniversaries – personal, societal – come to awaken us to goodness, kindness and commitment.

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