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The Canadian Jeiwsh News

Saturday, August 23, 2014

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Thinking bigger

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One of the many ways that society has been sub-divided is along the lines of the haves and the have-nots.

This breakdown is not by religion, ethnicity or some physical quality. It is a delineation based not on what a person is, rather on what a person has. Even though there surely are have-not communities, we tend to think of this delineation as referring to individuals.

So, when thinking about the responsibility the “haves” must show for the “have-nots,” our reflexive understanding is that this refers to the charitable obligations we have for those less fortunate, for those in need. There is nothing wrong with this understanding. But it can become a distorted understanding if we restrict our appreciation of the haves and have-nots only to individuals and do not extend the parameters of responsibility to communities.

There is a danger in placing burdens on communities. Who exactly in the community should shoulder the burden, especially when the challenge, is multi-faceted?

We know that collective responsibility has an inherent trap, that the responsibility is punted away toward others by everyone, assuring that nothing gets done. In the Jewish parlance, collective responsibility means nothing less than a shared burden from which no one can run away.

Much has been shared about the great challenges we face – most, but not all, being finance related. They boil down to “can we afford to be Jewish?” For some, it is not a question. But for others – and not an insignificant number of others – finances pose a huge challenge. Thankfully, there are many individuals and groups who are addressing this pressing matter. But like so many other communal issues, the burdens of the many are being shouldered by a precious few. With this type of response, burnout is inevitable.

So, it will come as a bit of a shock that we propose adding to that burden. It is not to suggest that we have ignored that burden, just that the issue is more pressing, even close to an emergency. We are speaking of the very small Jewish communities spread out across Canada, the have-not communities. Many are in imminent danger of disappearing. Some already have.

The obligation to look after the needy includes the obligation to look after needy communities that are far from having a critical mass to sustain themselves. These communities cannot afford schools, teachers or clergy. They are disconnected from where the action is, but have an intriguing history, a remnant of the past that is too precious to ignore.

We all can help, and in so doing, we will be helped in the process, as is always the case when help is extended. One way or another, the helper is always helped.

 Simple, relatively inexpensive initiatives such as a “smaller communities shared programs” endeavour can have considerable impact. If every “have” synagogue or organization identified a community to partner with and held two programs a year – one in the smaller community and one in which the smaller community joined the larger one for an event, be it religious, educational or social – everyone would be enhanced, and the “have-nots” would be given a better hope of continuity.

Technology, including Facebook and Twitter, is no substitute for the real thing – people meeting and embracing people, and communities coming together in the spirit of shared responsibility. The resultant legacy is a gift that our posterity will cherish. But it cannot happen unless we will it, and do it. 

– Rabbi Reuven P. Bulka

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