Rabbi AVI FINEGOLD
FOUNDER, THE JEWISH LEARNING LAB, MONTREAL
Rabbi PHILIP SCHEIM
BETH DAVID B’NAI ISRAEL BETH AM CONGREGATION, TORONTO
Rabbi Scheim: A dear friend recently shared with me a story about an Israeli taxi driver. He was returning from an overseas trip to Jerusalem and his flight was delayed by several hours. He landed at Ben Gurion Airport very late at night, and since he was in a year of mourning, he was in urgent need of a Ma’ariv minyan to say Kaddish. He asked his driver, who was seemingly secular, if he knew of any late-night minyanim in Jerusalem.
“You need to say Kaddish?” the driver responded, “No problem.” He pulled over to the curb, asked my friend to wait a moment, grabbed a kippah and a siddur from his glove compartment, and proceeded to flag down eight cars to make a minyan on a Jerusalem sidewalk.
We so often focus on the negative, the dark stories, of which there never seems to be a shortage. No doubt, there are reasons to fear, to distrust, to be skeptical about almost everything in life, but then we encounter the taxi driver who restores our faith in humanity, in the innate Jewish instinct to stand by each other.
How do we turn our focus to the positive in the face of so much negativity, and thereby acquire the energy to face the future with optimism?
Rabbi Finegold: I would venture to say that there is likely more good news in our community than things to be afraid of. Sadly, our impulse has become to dwell on the negative, because it affects our brain much more viscerally. Additionally, worrisome issues are much more newsworthy and tend to have a spotlight focused on them. To echo the old Jewish joke, if I were an anti-Semite, I would regularly read The CJN to remind myself that the work that I’m doing is clearly making an impact and affecting the Jewish community.
What we as rabbis can do is talk about the good news on a more regular basis. Next time a cemetery is desecrated or a synagogue is vandalized with graffiti – and there will be a next time – why don’t we briefly acknowledge the event and then spend more time highlighting two emerging Jewish groups or ideas making a positive change in our community?
There is a meme making the rounds called “Shabbos Table Guy,” which features a picture of a man of a certain age and text stating “You mention daily learning opportunities at Hillel, he wants to know about BDS on campus.”
There are so many great things happening in our communities. We just need to find more spaces to let them shine through.
Rabbi Scheim: One place where we focus on the good and avoid the negative is in the funeral chapel. Eulogies, by design, address only the positive attributes of the deceased. Here, the trick is to find the appropriate balance between praise and honesty, otherwise a tribute totally divorced from reality ends up mocking, rather than honouring, the dead.
Yet we are far less inhibited in analyzing a person’s sordid attributes when the person is still alive. Here, one is more likely drawn to malicious gossip. Imagine how different our world would be were we to find more pleasure in sharing the uplifting, positive stories about others than in sharing the bad. One shouldn’t have to pass away so that nice things can be said.
Various community organizations list acts of anti-Semitism, understandable in reminding us of the need for vigilance. But wouldn’t it be great as well to list acts of nobility, or of great kindness, in as emphatic a fashion as we report the negative? We need to be vigilant, but we also need to be hopeful.
Rabbi Finegold: I just returned from a conference of emerging Jewish organizations. Over the course of entire conference, I didn’t hear about the threat of anti-Semitism. These startups seem to be more concerned about getting the work done than fretting about potential threats. There are people who are reimagining Jewish spirituality, serving the basic needs of those underserved by society, and creating learning opportunities for adults who want to broaden their Jewish knowledge.
To me, this is some of the best news possible, knowing that there a new generation of Jewish organizations developing and innovating their Judaism. These organizations exist, and we should showcase them to our community.