In his song Standing on the Shoulders, Cantor Doug Cotler captures the understanding that we are where we are today because of the people who came before us. This is not only physically or emotionally, but also spiritually. If we were to look deeper, we also know that we are who we are because of each person that has had an impact—either positively or negatively—on us as people.
I think we can all agree that since the past impacts us today, it is extremely important that we undertake our powerful responsibility to ensure that a positive future is possible for generations that will come after we are gone. It takes concerted effort, thought and intention, by not only our community leaders, but also by each one of us.
It is this sense of moral responsibility that I believe motivates people to stand up when they see injustice in the world. I was recently teaching my Sunday School students the Jewish value of Al Tifrosh Min Hatzibur—not separating yourself from your community. I wanted my students to understand the important role each of us, including them, play as a community member and what responsibilities we have as a community member on helping to make our community stronger. It is the same theme we have used in past Shabbaton weekends with our community’s 3rd – 9th graders because of its important message.
I believe it is this understanding, that has such deep roots in our Jewish tradition, that drives the Jewish community to speak out when they see injustice in the world. It is why the Jewish community members were heavily involved in the 1950s and 1960s during the Civil Rights movement or the debate around immigration today. (As you will read in the next few pages, Dr. Marc Dollinger recently wrote a book about how Jews were involved during the Civil Rights movement and will be our featured speaker at the 2019 Annual Women’s Forum.) It was their deep passion and commitment to community, and not wanting to turn their back on those in need, that motivated so many. The model that they set has served as a motivation for people today. Standing with those in need, advocating for people we feel could use some additional support, or speaking out when we see discrimination, this is how people embody this Jewish value.
I would encourage all of us to stand up for what we believe in and what we think will help make our community stronger. Sometimes what we value and believe in will come in conflict with what someone else thinks or feels is right. When that happens, it is imperative that we sit down together and discuss our different viewpoints. And when we do this, the goal is not to sway someone else off their beliefs or feelings, but rather educate them about why we feel the way we do and listen to why they feel the way they do.
By doing this, we are modeling for our children, and their children’s children of how to respect others and learn from them… thus creating another set of shoulders for them to stand upon.
Jason Moss is Executive director of the Jewish Federation of the GREATER san gabriel and pomona valleys.