As we approach the new year, we look back at the year that was, highlighting areas that need improvement and devising an action plan so that we may improve. We then pray that we’ll be inscribed in the Book of Life and many other wonderful books. But prayer without action is a rather meaningless activity. We must actively pursue those goals, both personally and as a community, that will help us be inscribed in these “books.”
Having worked for a number of years as an accountant, the “Book of Livelihood and Sustenance” has special resonance for me. Never before has the Jewish community had such success with the Book of Sustenance as our generation has had. Yet despite this unprecedented communal wealth, we might want to tweak a few chapters as we look to make it an even better book. Here are some of my personal reflections on how to do so – the “editorial changes” I’d like to make.
I look forward to reading how no one should have to go to bed hungry or worry about putting a roof over their head. Despite our collective wealth, approximately one in six Jews live below the poverty line – a number in line with the general population. While reducing poverty levels isn’t easy, we need to do a much better job of it.
I look forward to reading about Jewish organizations honouring those who carry out the nuts and bolts of Jewish communal work. How wonderful might it be if there could be a most successful dinner where the honorees are teachers, social workers or someone who works behind the scenes enabling others to get most of the credit for the work done. I fully understand why those who contribute great sums of money are honoured – and they, too, deserve it – but what a message it would send to honour those who don’t have money to give, but give of themselves. Jewish parents might even encourage those of their children with the desire and aptitude to serve our community to do so.
I look forward to reading how young Jewish men and woman can choose a career based on their innate talents and desires, instead of those few career choices that pay well enough to afford a day school education. Options such as bus driver, mailman, artist, musician, cook or even scientist are no longer viable options for a day school parent. Just one more reason to make aliyah to Israel.
I look forward to reading how every Jewish family has the opportunity to provide a Jewish education for their children at no personal cost to the family. Contrary to public perception, our community has the means to do so many times over. Moreover, we wouldn’t have to raise a single dollar – not even one – from anyone to do this. The money is already sitting in charitable foundations and can only be spent for charitable activities. Yet the vast majority of this money remains in the foundations year after year. If the directors of those foundations would donate 10 per cent of the capital, there would be much more than enough to make all day schools free in time for the start of the school year. Such use of the money sure beats investing in the stock market.
And finally, I would like to stop reading about financial scandals, mistreatment of workers or a host of other unethical business practices (even if they might be legal). We need to remind (or teach) ourselves that the basis of Jewish life is ethical excellence. Without it, our “religious practices” have little meaning and may even cause a desecration of God’s name. It’s no wonder our Sages teach that the first question God will ask us when our inscription in the Book of Life ceases is “Were your financial dealing carried out faithfully?