TEEmail_December 2013_Uram

Message From Our President

Happy Chanukah Everyone! Here is a question: Why be Jewish?

At Chanukah, the biggest question for parents is, “Why can’t I do what my non-Jewish friends are doing? Why no tree or pretty lights? Why do I have to be Jewish?” The Pew study pointed out the increasing large numbers of people who no longer identify themselves as Jewish.   We know of teens and young adults who do not see a reason to care about our religion. So the question is, “Why be Jewish?” Is there something that makes our religion, our culture worth continuing? Sarah Shulkind, Ed.D. has responded to this question. I quote from her text. It is worth reading.

“ ….One week after the release of the Pew study, Ariel Warshel, Michael Levitt and Martin Karplus –a Kibbutz-born Israeli-American, a South African native who served in the IDF and splits his time between Palo Alto and Israel and an Austrian born to a secular Jewish family that escaped the Nazis, respectively—won the Nobel Prize in chemistry. They’re in good company: 193 of the 855 Nobel winners since the prize’s inception have been Jewish. That is 22% of total Nobel recipients, although Jews make up only about .2% of the world’s population. It’s a staggering set of statistics, embedded in which is one answer to “So what?”

The world is founded on three things, Pirke Avot tells us. Al ha-Torah, al-ha-avodah v’al g’milut chasadim: on study, on work and on acts of loving kindness. The values and responsibilities taught in even the most loosely observant Jewish homes, the critical thinking skills developed by Jewish text study and the empathy for those on the fringes of society (engendered by our own storied history)create a rich incubator for aspiration, ingenuity and work ethic. The disproportionate number of Jewish scientists, humanitarians, writers, artists and medical world-changers is no coincidence.

Why? Because Judaism is a practice rooted in…the ethics of responsibility. Judaism teaches that moral responsibility between human beings exists. Throughout our … history, Jews have been an intellectual and spiritual force, preserving our culture and teachings while helping to shape the civilizations in which we live. Beginning in the Talmudic age, our rabbis were the early and relentless champions of universal primary education. The word tzedakah appears 157 times in our Tanach. Education and tzedakah are obligations, not laudable suggestions. Our history and the history of the world attest to the value of this premise.

The 21st century is defined by challenges so vast and interconnected that they seem beyond solution: poverty and illiteracy, famine and disease, nuclear warfare and genocide, global warming and drought, bigotry and fanaticism. It would be easy to throw our hands up in helplessness or point our fingers at political impotence, but our tradition directs us instead to take personal responsibility, to engage in tikkun o’lam (repair of the world) and tzedakah(justice), even if we cannot complete the work we start. Responsibility is the greatest inoculation against the sense of powerlessness and futility in the face of great challenge.

There is work to do in the world. It needs to be made better for human beings now and for generations to come. Is Judaism the only path? Of course not. In addition to vast challenges the world is also full of righteous people, valuable cultures, intellectual vibrancy and vital diversity. I am not suggesting that we are alone in our desire and capacity to light the future. I am suggesting that across time and place, the Jewish people have made significant and unique contributions to bettering the world.

“The great thinker Rav Soloveitchik wrote that our ‘task in the world, according the Judaism, is to transform fate into destiny, a passive existence into an active [one], an existence of compulsion, perplexity and muteness into an existence replete with a powerful will, with resourcefulness, daring and imagination.’

That’s why Judaism is worth continuing. ….That’s why I’m ready to join with other Jewish leaders and buckle down to do the hard work of helping ensure Jewish continuity without losing sight of the other important work that needs doing in this world.

It is no more or less than our tradition and our future demands.”

This is why I became president of our temple. Join me as we build our house, our community and ensure our Jewish continuity!   

Shabbat Shalom!

Judy Uram