Recently I wrote about celebrating our Jewish identity as the foremost response to any discrimination we face. I wanted to highlight how much we as a community have to be proud of and how much we as a people can reflect on as sources of inspiration.
Before I do, I want to pre-empt the obvious response to expressions of pride. “What about …? It’s a growing problem!” or “How can we be proud when…?” We’ve grown too used to our celebration being tempered by amplification of the real challenges we face individually and as a community. I believe that WE CAN DO HARD THINGS. We can celebrate the past, celebrate inspiration, celebrate sovereignty, celebrate heroism of all kinds, AND we can address the challenges our community must wrestle with, from poverty to education, from housing to public health. Beyond Rockland, from divisive rhetoric to divisive policy. Most of you who read these messages are parents. I KNOW that you can both be incredibly proud of your kids and love them unconditionally, while at the same time being disappointed when they make decisions with negative repercussions, or worse, make decisions without thinking at all.
So, let’s put that response aside.
A few days ago, a Hatzoloh member from Rockland acted swiftly and saved the life of a passenger in grave distress on a JetBlue flight. We highlighted this on social media and we are not only inspired by his commitment to saving lives, but also by the source of that commitment, his Jewish learning and Jewish values.
I remember in my early days of Jewish professional work, I spent some time in a tiny and shrinking Jewish community in a town in Northern Ontario. The leader of that community was a wise and surprisingly funny woman, nearing or just past retirement age. She was very active in the town’s only synagogue, and very much informed by Jewish values, even though she lived a mostly secular lifestyle. I remember talking to her about her kids and grandkids, all of whom lived in larger cities and Jewish communities like Toronto and Montreal.
I asked her why she hadn’t decided to move to be closer to her kids and grandkids. Do you know what she said? “I’m the only one left here who knows how to do a ‘Tahara’ (ritual cleansing of the deceased before burial). Who’s going to do it if I leave?”
To this day, I find her commitment to her community a source of Jewish pride, a ‘Kiddush Hashem” (sanctification of God’s name) and an inspiration to me to always celebrate Jewish life and those who sustain it. So, Judy, thank you for being an exemplar for me. And thank you to all of those in our community here in Rockland who volunteer - who teach, who help seniors, who help secure our shuls, who lead programs, camps and campaigns, and those who save lives - every day. You make us proud!