By Jordan Rodnizki, NFTY Programming Vice President
As Jews, the concept of caring for the welfare of others seems to be a given. We are encouraged to give tzedakah and stay aware of the global crises that pervade our world. But do we really have a responsibility toward others, unconditionally? Are we truly our “brother’s keeper”? What are the exceptions that are morally correct to make? Is it better to care more for local problems than more general global inequalities? How do we even start to understand our responsibilities? Such questions bring about intriguing discussions and puzzling ethical ambiguities. These discussions and questions are the essence of what NFTYites have elected to study across North America as part of our annual Study Theme: Hashomer Achi Anochi: Am I My Brother’s Keeper? NFTY Studies Our Responsibilities Toward Others.
A study theme isn’t meant to tell you what “is”. It’s meant to make you grapple with viewpoints you’ve never seen before, and it’s meant to make you talk about the controversial taboos no one else will.
So let’s talk a little about responsibility.
At Mechina, the Regional Board training weekend held last month at the URJ Kutz Camp in Warwick, NY, I wanted to talk about the tough stuff: the issues that test the extent to which we want to – or feel obligated to – help others. We did a survey of the regional boards and asked them to respond to eight statements. They responded on a scale from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree”.
The statements posed were:
- I generally like Jewish people more than non-Jewish people.
- I am more willing to join Jewish social groups/fraternities/sororities/clubs than non-Jewish equivalents.
- I often don’t connect with the opinions and policies of other streams of Judaism.
- Building a strong relationship with other youth movements should be a priority for NFTY.
- I have more of a responsibility to feed a Jewish homeless person than a non-Jewish homeless person.
- I care more about the welfare of Israeli citizens than I do about the welfare of non-Jewish Americans.
- When we discuss the upcoming presidential election in NFTY, Israel must be an important part of a candidate’s platform.
- I feel NFTY spends too much time addressing issues in foreign countries and not enough time addressing issues in North America.
Time and time again, I was floored by the varied nature of the responses. NFTYites clearly hold different values sacred in different regions, and this is a beautiful thing. Is a TYG board member in NFTY-SoCal responsible for a program’s success in NFTY-GER if the region borrowed his or her resource? Is an advisor in NFTY-MV responsible for the behavior of a NFTY-OV participant at a North American event? The hazy gray nature of these situations leads to vague responses.
However, there is one thing we all can agree upon: our responsibilities to those whom we hold dear. As part of the Mechina program, we heard the Talmudic story of the lamedvavnikim. The lamedvavnikim are a group of 36 righteous individuals. The story tells us that it is for the sake of these 36 individuals that the world is saved. Jewish tradition instructs us to treat everyone we meet as if they could be a lamedvavnik. Perhaps you are one yourself.
As we thought about this concept, each regional board received a chain of paper dolls. On the dolls faces we wrote the names of the people who truly make an impact at events… the model participant who helps out wherever she can, the adult volunteer who is always there to run out and buy extra program supplies, the advisor who really supports you when you need it the most. Regions took the time to choose names wisely and thoughtfully before connecting each chain to each other, creating a huge connected line of lamedvavnikim.
No matter our differences, NFTY will always come together to celebrate the love and devotion we have for those who have our backs. Write a thank you card. Tell that person you really appreciated their hard work. Give someone a hug.
This is our responsibility.
How would you have responded to the statements proposed in the Study Theme Program? Please join the conversation and share your answers in the comment box below.