In 1917 Walter Lippmann, then barely 25 and destined to be one of the great American journalists of the twentieth century, wrote “we have changed the world more quickly than we know how to change ourselves.”
Now here we are, in the year 2000, and what was true 80 years ago is true today, kol v’chomer – how very much more so today.
And as the world spins, the Jewish people spin with it. We have been a distinctive part of the world through three millennia and countless countries, and everywhere we have stayed faithful to our best understanding of what our tradition demanded of us, and yet have learned and changed and evolved at the same time. So as modernity mutates into postmodernity, we face issues that every person and every people responds to, consciously or accidentally: What is our place in the world? What is our vision?
A few specific questions:
- How do we remain faithful to an ancient and often particularistic tradition whilst being part of a diverse postmodern world?
- How do we get to love Judaism, yiddishkeit, the Jewish people, kosher food, Pesach seder, Jerusalem, the Negev, Golders Green, the Upper West Side . . . and at the same time stay connected with our close non-Jewish friends, with our people’s traditional challenge to injustice, with the understanding that particularism can stray into prejudice?
- How do we get to love our people and our tradition, fearlessly and passionately, and yet also see that we have work to do?
- For those of us who are younger or more liberal, or radical, or less-affiliated: how do we honor the amazing dedication and philanthropy of the organized Jewish community? How do we see that “cool” is not really a deep value? That a tradition strong enough to travel thirty centuries and supple enough to survive them and grow surely has wisdom to teach us?
- For those of us who are older, or more traditional, or deeply involved in the community: how do we help traditional communities become more open to those who are poorer, or less well-educated, or less knowledgeable? How do we embrace change, and trust that innovation will strengthen the Jewish people and not weaken us? Is your shul or temple a place where a stranger, regardless of dress or background, will naturally be invited for home hospitality, and if not, what will you do to make it more welcoming?
- For those of us who are involved in Federation: if someone wants to make a significant contribution to the community, and is not wealthy, can they do so, and if not, what changes could or should be made? If someone comes along with a new project they’d like to see happen, does your system have the ability to respond quickly: if not, what steps could you take to encourage and sustain innovation?
- For those of us who are gay, or lesbian, or bisexual, or simply alienated because of our rotten experience of the organized Jewish community as a kid or a teenager or a young adult: what would it mean to trust that there are true role models in the Jewish community, leaders who are honorable, communities that are inclusive, Jews of every stripe and denomination who really care and want to build strong inclusive Jewish communities?
- For those of us who are rabbis: how do we hang on to what it was that caused us to be a rabbi in the first place? To love the things we love, endure the things we suffer, remind ourselves of all that we still want to do, rededicate ourselves to its possibility?
- For all of us, individually and organizationally: what is your vision for the Jewish people? What could it be? If you began to imagine the Jewish community of the year 2020, what do you think it will look like? And what could it look like? And what do you believe it ought to look like? And what steps do we – do you – need to take now to start to get there?
I’ve been blessed to have met and to have learned from people who have taught me how extraordinary and amazing the Jewish world is and can be. Part of my own vision, in consequence, is about transcending our sometime narrowness. None of us has a monopoly on truth. From my most halachic friends I have learned how awesome the tradition is, how rich, how hard, what great demands it makes, how high its standards. From those who are secular: that religious people have no monopoly on good behavior, that religious impulses are not shared by all. From those who are rich: that some of our philanthropists are simply outstanding people; from those who are poor: that you don’t have to be rich to make a difference. From those who are not-Jewish: that I am a human being before I am a Jew, and that I can love the traditions of others, learn from them, and trust easily that there are many who are not Jewish who love our traditions and wish to learn from us also.
Hazon is an attempt to be a project which will be rooted in Jewish tradition but committed to the present and the Jewish future. In particular, I want it always to be committed to encouraging and empowering and inspiring and nurturing and connecting – especially those who are idealistic, those who want to contribute, those rich in ideas or energy or resources generally. If you have an article you’d like to publish; a project you’d like to develop; a connection you’d like to develop; if you want to make a financial contribution or a non-financial contribution; if there is someone you love and would like to encourage to fulfill their dream – in all of these cases, Hazon would like to hear from you.
In the short term – from June through August – we’re going to be pretty busy with our Bike Ride, details of which are elsewhere on the website. The Bike Ride is a little like the opening sequence of a James Bond movie – action and excitement and movement – but after the sequence ends, the movie slows pace a little and the formal development begins. The opening sequence is important – it gives a sense, in many ways, of what is to come – but it is by no means the movie itself.
So too with our bike ride: it presages themes which are important to Hazon –
- Jewish, diverse, open to non-Jews;
- committed to being accessible to those who are observant and those who are not;
- simple enough to explain to a seven year old, but complicated enough that, by the time it is over, it will have required the help of several hundreds of people to make it happen;
- rooted in Jewish teaching (about community, Shabbat, brachot, our relationship with the physical world) but very much focused on contemporary issues also
- pedagogically committed to na’aseh v’nishmah – “we will do and we learn”, the classic Jewish understanding that action and learning and teaching intertwine and that learning sometimes stems from action as well as the reverse.
- at heart it is about taking our tradition at face value. If in the year 2000 – 5760 by the Jewish calendar – we are commanded to be “a light unto the nations,” and to seek “l’taken olam b’malchut shaddai” – to heal the world in the spirit of a sense of the divine, and to treat each person as made “b’tselem elohim”, in the image of G!d, then how do we do those things in practice? How do we apply them to environmental degradation, cynicism, contemporary societal ills?
- understanding the importance of role-models, especially for kids and teenagers and young adults;
- celebratory in its overall commitment to Judaism;
- relishing connections with others across the spectrum – especially, in this case, environmentalists, cyclists, people out west, people of other faiths …
And so these themes will, I hope, develop in other ways after the summer. We will want to evaluate the Ride, to learn its lessons, to draw conclusions and, in parallel, to look at how Hazon can help others to develop their projects, and how we can begin to involve ever larger numbers of the Jewish people in the intertwined tasks of torah (learning, in the widest sense), avodah (davenning and spiritual service, in the very widest sense) and g’milut hasidim (practical acts of kindness, in every sense).
May 2000 / Lag b’omer 5760