Sometimes it’s good to find out that a problem you think is new and modern has actually been around for quite a while. I’ve spent a lot of time in the last couple of years thinking and, quite frankly, worrying about whether or not those younger than me, the Gen Xers, Gen Yers, and most especially the Millenials (as in my kids), feel the same sense of Jewish mutual responsibility that motivated my parents’ generation and that motivates me today. It’s a worry brought on by seeing the growing emphasis on Jewish responsibility for caring for the ills of the larger world, seemingly at the expense of caring about responsibility for fellow Jews in particular.
I know I’m not alone in my concern, because it’s been a topic of conversation here in MetroWest, even on the agenda of our Board of Trustees and part of the curriculum of our Arthur Borinsky Leadership Development program. Our leadership and our professional staff share the concern. But well beyond this small local group, the question of finding balance between the values of areyvut, the obligation to care for our Jewish community, and the value of a vision of tikkun olam, in the specific sense of the obligation to repair the entire world, is something that has definitely been under discussion in the wider Jewish blogosphere. (I spend a lot of time there in the course of a day.) If you’ve been a reader here for a while, you know that in addition to JTA, I’m a big fan of Tablet (thanks to Alia Ramer, whose blog, Our Tribe and Joy, you can read at www.njjewishnews.com/tribe/) and www.ejewishphilanthropy.org. Ejewishphilanthropy has been running an entire series on this topic, as part of excerpts from the Peoplehood Papers (a project of the recently closed Peoplehood Hub, but that’s a whole different topic.) The post from January 18 really got my attention; you can find it here.
The essay by Shlomo Ravid starts with a quote from Ahad Ha’am, one of the seminal figures in the establishment of a Jewish state. He, too, was worried that the youth of a hundred years ago were so involved with making the entire world a better place that they had lost sight of the importance of what should matter to them as Jews. It’s probably an issue that goes back at least to the era of Enlightenment and the emancipation of the Jews after centuries of ghettoizing. Once freed to be a part of a greater whole, negotiating duty to people and duty to mankind became part of Jewish consciousness. It’s a balancing act the Jewish people have been making for centuries.
What I hope most fervently for the future is that there is a balance to strike for the younger generations, that our friends, children, and grandchildren see that there is a value to fulfilling both obligations. When I involve myself in the development of a richer, better Jewish life, I am myself enriched by feeling close to my heritage and my people. When I involve myself in the care and concerns of the larger, non-Jewish world, I am fulfilling the ancient command to be a light unto the nations. It’s a question of the lens through which we perform this kind of tikkun olam.
I seek to repair the non-Jewish world because my Judaism demands it, as it also demands that I also care specifically about the Jewish world. For each of us, the balance may fall differently; my concern is that some part of it fall on the side of caring for the Jewish world.
Wishing you a Happy New Year for trees. Tomorrow is Tu B’Shevat!