I was kidding about retiring. April Fools! I now continue with some of my more favorite or important columns, this one from September 2008. I was very clever in 2008-2009, been downhill since. I have at least six of those columns that I would love to share but maybe you will get two. Speak to Allen Lerman if you want more.
Three weeks ago I threw out the It’s Wednesday Olympic medal challenge, Why Be Jewish? Meaning, what is the point of being Jewish or having Jews in the world? And I presented the viewpoint of NYU Prof. Douglas Rushkoff that we Jews are here to build a just society. We can’t get hung up on land (Israel) or peoplehood or being another house of worship on the block, Rushkoff says. Instead, our focus must be to “pursue universal justice. If we’re serious about Jewish continuity, it is this thread we must keep alive.”
The next two weeks I shared a representative sampling of the many erudite responses I received from you. I cannot stall any longer. Here – with the brevity that It’s Wednesday brings – is what I think, at least at this point in my life.
For me, there is a reason to be Jewish, and a reason why we Jews are here.
The reason to be Jewish is a simple one: we can get so much joy and pleasure from being Jewish. I do. The rituals, studying Torah myself and with you, enjoying Jewish music, Shabbat and yom tov meals, Sukkot, Pesach, Israel Israel Israel, and the Jewish community which never ceases to amaze me with its talent and its passion (sometimes excessive but better that). I love being Jewish, and would not trade that for anything. I hope that this comes as no surprise to you and I hope it conveys to you. That some Jews don’t find the joy bothers me no end, and challenges me constantly.
My answer to why we are here on this earth is probably not as obvious. It is not what Rushkoff said but not opposed to that. I think we are here to be what the prophet Isaiah 2500 years ago called “a light to the nations,” meaning our existence is no accident but we are here to set an example of how God wants people to be. Not that we are better than other people, just that we have a mission and it is to be good people. If you prefer, rather than a divine mandate this is something we took on ourselves, to be good people.
What about building a just society? Among the things good people do is to be deeply concerned about that, but not just that. I resonate with the words of Mordecai Waxman, a well known Conservative Rabbi of the second half of the last century: “A guiding principle of the Jewish people for over 2,000 years, Tikkun Olam remains a key doctrine for modern Judaism.” You will hear a lot this year about Tikkun Olam [our theme for the year], and it is a key just as Waxman said. But there is more: how we treat other people every day at home or school or the office, what values we model (eg. stressing education and tzedakah), whether culture is important to us, whether we practice moderation in how we live and what we consume. In short, will people look at us and reflect what the Gentile prophet Bilaam said when he looked out over our people more than 3200 years ago: Mah Tovu Ohalecha Yaakov – “How goodly are your tents, people of Jacob?”
So, in brief, there it is, as I see it. I always enjoy hearing back from you. Please use the email address below. Be brief or I won’t get to what you write. Bill Rudolph
P.S. Back to now. Pesach is coming. No fooling about that. Always space and good food at our siyyum for the first born (and their relatives) Friday morning 7:15. Sell me your chametz by 9AM that morning. Still room at our shul seder Saturday night, contact Hattie Goodman at email@example.com. Many yom tov services, short sermons. Info on the website or the Tuesday listserv. Wishing you a chag kasher v’sameach.