By Nigel Savage
Thursday, May 2, 2019 | 12th day of the omer; hod she’b’gevurah
Today is Yom Hashoah, and the attack in Poway of course remains on my mind. Like many of us, I was inspired by the words and deeds of Rabbi Goldstein, and by the courage of the people in the shul.
I feel, as others do, the need to respond to anti-semitism, both on the right and on the left. The world is changing, and it needs us to act, both proactively (challenging bigotry and banning guns) and defensively (increasing security in Jewish institutions).
But I want to add this, and strongly: we must not obsess about anti-semitism. History doesn’t repeat, and it doesn’t repeat mechanistically. The very fiber of Hazon and of all that we do is built around the notion of vision, positive vision, and of the need not simply to be against things – anti-semitism, or attacks on Israel, or for that matter bigotry or racism of any sort – but instead to offer a strong and powerful positive vision of the nature of Jewishness in the 21st century.
This applies even to the big ticket items that are Hazon’s raison d’être. It is true that we are “against” climate change and for that matter “against” the industrial meat industry. (If you haven’t yet seen it, you should read this superb piece in the New York Times yesterday and this short quiz on how your own diet contributes to climate change.)
But the heart of our work isn’t in fact about being against anything.
It’s about breathing deep into the tradition, engaging with the wider world, engaging with the physical world that sustains us.
And then inspiring ourselves, and inspiring others.
And then driving positive change, from that place.
This is what our JOFEE Fellowship is about, or our work in Detroit or Colorado, or Teva or Adamah or the Israel Ride or our retreats at Isabella Freedman – all of it is about inspiring change through positive vision.
I could use any part of our work as an exemplar of this, but I want especially to mention our Israel Ride, because I haven’t mentioned it for a while.
Do you not feel depressed at what is happening in Israel or the Middle East? Violence and terrorism, intransigence, enmity? Of course – those things are real and they are depressing.
But it’s almost literally impossible to come away from our Israel Ride not feeling more hopeful. It is not just from getting on a bike and pushing yourself and being outdoors and off social media and with good people and eating good food and sleeping just fine – that, of course, is true, but it is the least of it. What is at its heart is relating to the students and alumni of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies. They are Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian, and American; Jewish, Muslim, and Christian. And they are friends. Friends in a way that you can’t fake. Not friends, by the way, who agree on everything. They disagree, sometimes extremely strongly. But it is in disagreeing amidst friendship that they are so inspiring. They argue and they change each other. They learn to give the benefit of the doubt, to see nuance, to understand things from someone else’s shoes. That’s what the whole of Jewish tradition is about. That’s what Hillel and Shammai are about, and Rosh Hashanah, and Tisha b’Av, and so much else.
So – yes, let us “respond” to anti-semitism, to racism against immigrants or Muslims or Christians, to prejudice against people who are trans, or Trump-supporters or old or young or anything. Let’s strive to see the goodness in each person and the possibility of the world looking differently through their eyes. But most of all, let’s stay on our game. Let’s hold out a positive vision. Not a foolish vision, not a naïve vision, not a pie-in-the-sky vision. But a vision, nevertheless, grounded in hope.
And I invite you, of course, in having hope, to keep counting.
This count, from Pesach to Shavuot: it doesn’t matter if you have remembered it every day or not, if you are counting with the bracha, the blessing, or without.
What matters is that this is our annual meditation on freedom. Be aware of it, each day. Journal, reflect, think on it. It should not be a given. We should not stumble through our lives, going from meeting to meeting, meal to meal, app to app, without really registering that it is a blessing that we have clean water, or medical care, or live without fear of walking the streets. (None of these is absolute, we know. But relative to Shakespearean England, or anywhere in Europe 75 years ago, or Sudan today – we are so blessed.)
Freedom from, relatively speaking, has been given to most of us reading these words. But freedom to – this we are not using well enough. How do we live as citizens, not as consumers? How do we limit some of our freedoms – those that diminish our society’s future, in the long run?
So let’s be inspired by heroism in Poway. Let’s count up our days, in goodness. And let’s build, day by day, the vision of the world we believe in.
A few last things:
- 175 people are signed up for this November’s Israel Ride; which is to say, there are just a few slots left. If you’d like to join us, you’re invited.
- And secondly – after the 49th day of the omer comes Shavuot. Please join us at Isabella Freedman for our Shavuot retreat. All-night learning, a midnight hike to the top of the mountain, sunrise Shacharit, our Shavuot parade with costumes and goats (and goats-in-costumes), outdoor fun for kids, and more for all ages. We have an exciting line-up of presenters including Reb Art Green, Rebbetzin Eve Ilsen, Rabbi Jill Hammer, Shir Yaakov Feit, Basya Schechter, Rabbi Avram Mlotek, Yael Kornfeld-Mlotek, Eden Pearlstein, Shoshana Jedwab, Sarah Shamirah Chandler, and Julie Seltzer. Register at hazon.org/shavuot.
- We’re hoping to make a significant new hire – a new Managing Director of National JOFEE Programs. If you’re interested, please be in touch. If there’s someone who you think might be the perfect person – feel free to forward this to them.
- Finally – this Sunday is the Five Boro Bike Ride, here in NY. If you are a registered rider and would like to skip the craziness at the start – wear any Hazon jersey, and join me at the corner of Central Park North and Adam Clayton Powell at 8am sharp. We will set off to join the ride at 8:15am. Email me if you plan to join us and/or have any questions.