— ECPhiladelphia (@ECPhiladelphia1) May 16, 2016
At times, I resist writing a post because I just don’t want to spend the time doing all the research it might take. I also think that no one would want to spend their valuable time just reading another opinion. So, to be fair to you, this one’s for me. It’s just something that I want to have noted somewhere, and this is the place I picked.
You probably won’t like what I have to say.
The climate change that I’m experiencing is not related to weather. It’s related to how we see ourselves as human beings in the world. More often than not, my experience of living in today’s society seems to affirm that we think less and less of ourselves.
Our behaviors on a daily basis are less refined. More is done without proper thought or intention.
For one, our speech is less dignified. We’re sloppy with words and they have become more angry, more vindictive, more explosive. Name-calling is not unusual. We pay less attention to accuracy, and often speak first, think later. Sure, online fact checking exists, but who wants to do that all the time?
I am most bothered about this because it goes against my understanding of our numerous laws and cautions regarding speech. (There have been volumes of commentary written about the laws of speech but for an extremely quick introduction read this and/or this). According to our tradition, the world was created with words which is why we place such an important value on the spoken and written word.
The very thing that is often associated with Judaism, the Ten Commandments, is really an awkward translation of the Hebrew, meaning “Ten Utterances” (Aseret HaDibrot, the root D-B-R meaning words and speak, reinforcing the elemental connection between the two).
Our way of eating has become on the one hand more conscious, on the other much less so. We might be paying a lot of attention to what we eat (gluten-free? fat-free? organic? all natural? free range? no GMO’s?, no growth hormones? dairy free?–really, I just touched the surface here) but we certainly aren’t paying attention to how we eat.
The food packaging industry has burgeoned with food (?) that can be eaten as quickly as possible, no eating utensils or table needed. Machines can pulverize our food beyond recognition. There are outrageous food contests where thousands gather to watch people gobble as much food as they can without actually regurgitating. There are people who try to win these competitions.
We eat on the run. In a car. While on our devices. In a rush. Often alone.
The way we treat our food is the way we treat ourselves. All the research points to a society that is making itself sick by the way we eat, yet changing those habits is very difficult. There are many laws in Judaism about what we eat and how we eat. They are all structured for us to resist the passive ingestion of substances, and elevate the activity that honors us as human beings.
As much as I think that the world agrees with me on how different we are from animals, that just isn’t so. A recent article in the New York Times has the primatologist Frans de Waal outlining why he believes there is little distinction between human beings and primates. You can read a rebuttal to that here in the online “Evolution News”. Denying the fact that we are imbued with a special capacity to make moral and ethical choices minimizes who we are and robs us of what our potential is on this earth.
It is difficult in today’s society to intentionally slow down enough to pay attention to behavior that might elevate our souls, instead of denigrating our core. The spark that I believe is in all of us, and what makes us special creatures should inform our behavior more often.
May we be blessed with the awareness that comes from knowing that and the opportunity to be able to practice it.
Whenever I get ready to write a headline for a post, I google it, to make sure that it hasn’t been used before, but also to search for content that might be relevant. This time, my search results were lackluster. I did see this headline, from Israel’s Ha’aretz paper, which was really close to what I wanted to say: “Are the Leaders of Today the Leaders We Deserve? Though the article was written three years ago, referring to Obama, Martin Luther King, and the impending Israeli election, it asked similar questions.
Asking these kind of questions is not a recent phenomenon. In the era of the Talmud, scholars were discussing aspects of character, leadership, and community. Perhaps because we’ve been outsiders for so long, we tend to think objectively about the society around us, and our place in it (or not):
Rabbi Yehuda Nesiah (grandson of Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi, the redactor of the Mishnah) were in disagreement: “One said: According to the leader, so the generation. The other said: According to the generation, so the leader.” Talmud, Arachim, 17a.
What is your opinion? Is our society reflective of the characteristics of our leaders, or are have we produced the leaders that represent our values, morals and ethics?
What do you think of this in light of the presidential race?
Are you surprised by the character flaws of the candidates? Did you expect more in the way of the choices you have? In what way are these candidates reflective of our society? Are enough people who are disappointed with the choices we have turning a mirror toward our society and its flaws? How much responsibility should our society bear? If so, how would things change? How do we encourage the types of leaders we want? Is that even possible?
There are those who think that we have very good choices in front of us and might be wondering why I’m even writing this. There is enough evidence of candidate scandals, dishonest dealings, name calling, hostile speeches, angry rhetoric, and divisive tactics to fill pages. You just can’t wish the evidence away.
I’ve heard and read many complaints about the leaders we find front and center in the Presidential race. I’ve experienced this from media on the right and left, online publications, blogs, and posts. The comments about the situation range from anger, disbelief, frustration, to hope and faith.
But I have yet to hear anyone turn those observations inside out (maybe I missed it, please let me know) and examine the kind of society that produced such choices.
What are we, as Jews, missing?
Clearly something, since others, especially Asians, find that there is an immense value in our Jewish culture and traditions. Aspects of our heritage that we either take for granted or deride as old-fashioned provide them with ample areas of study.
Perhaps by reading this (non-definitive) list of specifically Jewish phenomena that they find interesting and worthy of study, we will be inspired to reclaim our own connections. Here is what has been the subject of examination:
- Our method of Talmud study, which engages the mind in different ways than other types of learning. I’ve written about this curiosity of the South Koreans several years ago here. About 50,000,000 Koreans have studied the Talmud (in a country where most people are Christian or Buddhist). If that wasn’t impressive enough, a recent article in the New Yorker called “How the Talmud Became a Best-Seller in Korea” states that every South Korean home has at least one copy of the Talmud. (Reality check–if you’re Jewish and reading this: can you say the same?).
- The way in which the bonds of connection is reinforced between the generations through home-based rituals. Our many holidays and celebrations reinforce and strengthen family values…all of which are of interest to a nation that wants to advance, yet hold on to family traditions.
- Our penchant for beating the Nobel odds. They are exploring the reasons why at least twenty percent of Nobel Prize winners are Jewish, while Jews represent less than 0.2% of the world’s population. They want to know the ‘secret sauce’ that outdoes statistical expectations. (Much has already been written of the “Tiger Mom” syndrome and how it relates to Jewish mothers’ approach to success, so I won’t go into that here).
- Our entrepreneurial success (particularly in Israel, where there are a disproportionate number of profitable tech start-ups relative to the population) and ability to think of ever newer technologies that answer today’s problems successfully. Even though for example, founders may not identify primarily as “Jewish” the fact is evident (an obvious example would be Mark Zuckerberg….who, um, married Priscilla Chan).
- Judaism as researched from an academic lens. Since the Chinese nation is in a process of advancement, it sees Jews as another ancient people who have excelled while maintaining a distinct identity. There are no fewer than ten academic centers of Jewish studies in Chinese Universities across the country, and students often spend a semester abroad, learning more about Jewish history and culture in Israel or the United States. The deputy director of the Glazer Institute of Jewish Studies at Nanjing University, says that the curiosity reflects “Judeophilia” rather than “Judeophobia” .
- Trade potential between the Israel and China. Trade has increased over 20000% in the past two decades, and today reaches over $10.8 billion. China is now Israel’s third-largest trading partner, after the United States and the EU. Naftali Bennett, Israel’s Economy Minister has described Israel as “going East” in terms of trade and Research &Development.
- The ability to keep languages alive that many thought were doomed to extinction. Hebrew was not a spoken, modern language until the 1940’s and for years the use of Yiddish has been in decline. Chinese state radio now broadcasts in Hebrew. Jewish experts who China brings as guests for news and business shows are able to speak Hebrew with their Chinese interviewers. A Ph.D. student recently wrote and performed history’s first Chinese-Yiddish song (you can watch it here) after studying Yiddish and Hebrew in Israel. She stated that “Nowadays, more and more Chinese are curious about Jewish history and culture.” An online news item reported that people living in Russia’s Far East (a territory along the Russian-Chinese border) are studying Yiddish. There, “all schoolchildren learn Yiddish as part of the curriculum, even though students of Chinese and Korean descent often outnumber Jewish ones.“
- The investment potential of connecting with Israeli companies. Stephanie Lee, founder of Beijing Zion Shalom Cultural Development Company, matches Chinese investors with Israeli high-tech startups stated “We really want to learn more about the culture, also the religious customs, and see how children are raised”. In the early part of the decade there was virtually no high-tech funding from China. Just two years ago, within a couple of years, Chinese firms invested $32 billion in Israel. Asia’s richest man Li Ka-shing, invests heavily in Israeli tech and bio-tech, and over one-third of the startups funded by his company is Israeli. China is in second place (after the United States) as a collaborator with Israeli high-tech firms backed by Israel’s Office of the Chief Scientist.
- The appeal of Shabbat. A company in Israel, called Shabbat of a Lifetime, arranges a Sabbath meal experience with non-Jewish tourists who want to experience its allure first-hand in homes of traditionally observant Jews. Recently, those who are requesting the program are predominantly from Asian countries.
Please share 🙂 #Israel #startups #JewishCulture #JewishAsianConnection
Further reading on related topics:
I almost can’t watch the news anymore. For me, no matter what channel I turn to what I hear are words that seem to incite an emotional response and cause me to feel a great deal of angst. Reporters and screen crawlers alike parse out words and headlines that increase my heart rate, making me very anxious about what to expect (or not) next.
I am definitely on overload. I can tell because right about now I could use a strong dose of several Hallmark movies just to offset all the negativity that surrounds me. Or a Disney film. Anything without violence, terror, bloodshed, or senseless killing. There’s enough of that via the media that seeps into my home on a daily basis.
How do you respond internally to all of these caustic attacks? Does it affect you? Do you want to turn off the TV? Do you want to shout back?
I believe that we are affected by all that’s around us, including the words and images we let in, and that we also contribute to our reality by either accepting things as they are or by doing something to offset it.
Words matter. According to some Jewish traditions, the entire world was created with words.
Whether or not that is your belief, we all know that words have an immense ability to create, change, and mediate our reality.
We should not take words lightly. I remember this acutely after Yitzhak’s Rabin’s assassination, when there was much in the media about the verbal incrimination and incitement that led up to it. Libelous terms were casually used, and the level of poisonous words escalated when reporting about the opposition to his pursuit of peace. An account on CNN’s site last month (on the anniversary of the assassination) said “They called Rabin a traitor; some went so far as to liken him to a Nazi SS officer.”
Our own American reality has changed in just the past few weeks. Terror shootings have shocked us all. The death toll in just the past few months is beyond belief. The ways in which we cope with the portrayal of these violent acts tells us more about who we are as a society than more benevolent times. How are we coping with this?
Many reporters, politicians, and pundits try to top each other by using acrimonious labels, venomous attacks, and ever more harsh statements. Reading or hearing these words would have shocked most of us just several months ago. We have to be careful that these experiences do not become our new normal. Very careful.
How can we possibly change what’s already happening? By doing what we can in our own small circle. I know this might sound very simplistic, but by making sure we behave the way we were intended to be–with honor, civility, and kindness, we can create a reality that is very different from the one we’re constantly exposed to.
We can change things by focusing as much as we can on our own choice of words. Be more aware of the words you use to describe something you don’t like. Dare to do the opposite of what you’re reading and hearing.
Speak more kindly. Use even more care with how you speak with others. The power of your words will affirm that creation is Good. “And God saw all that God had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:35).
We are witnessing the highly valued currency of connection in many organizations, especially non-profits. This is so because non-profit organizations have the most to gain from a consistent and loyal donor/customer (hereafter named d/c) base. When resources are thin, the value of customer retention is at a premium. Yet, despite the rash of open positions titled “Engagement Coordinator”, “Director of Donor Outreach”, or “Membership Concierge” there is more to reaching out to current and potential donors/customers than a newly crafted position.
Beyond having hundreds, if not thousands of d/c “like’ you, “follow” you, “pin” you or develop an association with you is the hope that they will, over time, build a relationship with you. In time, that connection will hopefully culminate into the continual donation/purchase of goods and services, ensuring a secure future for your organization. For non-profits, that culture of connection translates to donations made freely and frequently.
So what’s wrong with creating new positions in order to focus on connections? Simply developing a new area of focus in d/c engagement doesn’t assure success. As compelling as the organizational mission might be, to be really successful at the above endeavors requires internal change as well.
For instance, organizational staff will need to comprehend a change in focus. What plan is in place to bring them on board? How will this new spirit of engagement translate to the folks in the Marketing, IT departments or even those at the front desk? In what ways will their work change? What specific strategies will support the new emphasis on d/c relationships?
Why should you expend the effort? For the sake of organizational integrity which long-term, translates to sustainable success. Think of the most effective organizations you know. They seem to have a top-down, bottom-up consistency to messaging. A solid measure of how effective an organization is, is how well their message to the outside world mirrors the one to its own employees and staff. It’s the sweet spot where the external mission and the internal operation coalesce into a unified whole.
Why is this important? Because today, success is not just about sales/donations. It’s about being upstanding and upright. So, no matter how many positions are created with this new engagement focus, if they are not reflective of a cultural shift in the organization confusion will follow. Being an organization without integrity is like being a parent who says one thing but does another. It won’t take long for a bright consumer to figure things out, and then there could be very serious consequences and perhaps even irreparable damage, with heavy work to be done in order to restore confidence.
So, what are three quick questions to ask to know if your non-profit has organizational integrity?
- Compare the way your organization treats its best donors with the way it regards the most valued employees. Are there disparities? Repair them. Perhaps your organization is filled with itself on the inside but unable to articulate that same message to potential or current donors/buyers? If either case is so, you’ll need to fix it.
- Compare the frequency and tone of external newsletters with communication with internal staff. Does the message match? Is there equal attention to the content for both? Make sure your message works for you, in all ways possible. If not, work on creating better tools.
- What is the follow-up system for problems that occur? How are issues handled for d/c or for internal staff? If issues fester and go unresolved, that can poison any outreach/inreach efforts you might want to undertake.
Achieving organizational integrity is a process I can help you with. I am interested in your responses and hope you might connect to discuss your experience with me, here or at Ruth Schapira Consulting.
This season, when so many emotions surge through us, it is comforting to be within a community. That’s part of the grand design, for Jews to be together to usher in the New Year. We collectively hear the shofar’s urgency of now and decide that this year, things will be different….we’ll be different. But one thing is stubbornly the same and I need to write about it.
For those who were not part of a synagogue community last year, has their situation changed? I’ve spoken with many people who don’t connect to the formalized Jewish community and miss the experience of belonging. They were once members, somewhere.
Yet they haven’t received any personal communication to return to the synagogue. Not a letter, not a phone call. I wonder what their experience is of Klal Yisrael and what our obligation is to them? (For the most part, these issues don’t arise for those who identify as Orthodox, as their entire experience of community is different).
Their feelings of being separate must hurt and are in total opposition to the goal of feeling close to G-d and community. The pain they share with me is palpable, but often buried.
Most synagogues don’t have the volunteer power to do outreach. Yet for years, as a communal educator, I have listened to stories of exclusion peppered with harsh memories and I feel helpless. The problem is so overwhelming.
Programs like ‘public space’ Judaism, online workshops, concierge services or outreach spiritual leaders are part of innovative responses to this growing problem of disconnected Jews. But for those who are searching specifically for a re-connection to their synagogue, personal outreach is required. We need to initiate teshuvah by encouraging them to return.
Sometimes the reasons for leaving a community have to do with finances so we need to change the dues structure paradigm by thinking beyond the synagogue. Ultimately, it might cost more to exclude those we are not reaching. If we want individuals to belong to a community, then we need to offer wider access to that community. Right now, our definition of belonging is defined exclusively by which congregation someone belongs to.
For example, my experience is that even if a synagogue event is open to the public, people from neighboring synagogues don’t attend. I’ve witnessed this phenomena multiple times, though I don’t understand the behavior at all. So, how can we make others feel welcome in any synagogue in a given community….without feeling that they don’t belong? Because every Jew in a Jewish community belongs.
A community could establish a communal membership fee, whatever amount works for them, on whatever scale, which would be a way to say ‘you belong’. A person would then be a member of all synagogues in the area. This manageable fee could be an option for people who are new to an area and want to ‘synagogue shop’ for a year or two. Or it could be for those who would like access to a wider range of social programming.since prayer may not be the way they connect to the Jewish community. The fee would also work for those who are already a member of one synagogue but elect to additionally support the Jewish community in this way. There also might be levels of giving to reflect these different needs.
Just imagine, everyone could feel part of the community, with no artificial borders and boundaries.
If some of these discussions occur, then next year, when it comes time for us to think about Teshuvah, we might just agree that the return to an old paradigm is worth a change.