My late zaide, Moishe Chaim Flicht, worked in a slipper factory for 40 years. He made splendid slippers, according to my late mother, but this very kind and gentle man’s career goal was always to be a cantor. He studied for a time under the great Moshe Koussevitzky in Poland. Prayer with vocals was his passion.
But Moishe Chaim was never able to pursue his gift in the New World, except for some High Holiday gigs, in places like Hamilton, Ont. They were infrequent, however, as his family did not want him gone for too long. How must he have felt when his dreams died?
I tell you this as a reminder of how incredibly lucky many of us are to live in a time when we can chose our careers, unlike my zaide (and likely yours, as well). Imagine toiling every day in a factory, stitching one more sole and cutting away at your spirit.
I, on the other hand, had mazal: I was able to choose my career.
After much searching earlier in my own life, I settled on a career in community work. It seemed genuine. In 1990, at age 30, I launched a career as a fundraiser with the United Jewish Appeal (UJA). Those were exciting times. My colleagues and I were involved in coordinating Operation Exodus, a bid to rescue a million Jews leaving the Soviet Union for Israel and the Diaspora.
The work was in my blood. I was alive and didn’t have to sleep all that much. I stayed at UJA for seven years. I then launched a tzedakah called Ve’ahavta, a Jewish humanitarian and relief organization.
For 20 years, I was the executive director of the organization, overseeing our local and international humanitarian work and crisis responses. It was a fascinating ride, which provided me with opportunities I never fathomed were possible.
I met people who cared so deeply about the world; who compelled others to participate in tikkun olam. While I was not much of a traveller, Ve’ahavta was responsible for sending many Jewish and non-Jewish medical professionals on missions to such places as the rainforests of Guyana and rural Zimbabwe.
In those days, life sparkled in a youthful way. We launched our mobile Jewish Response to the Homeless and later our Street Academy – an institute of learning for those on or near the street.
I interacted with iconic dignitaries and humanitarians like Elie Wiesel, Mia Farrow and Bob Geldof. I worked with neophytes to the industry and veterans. Each one of them brought a glow to Ve’ahavta, to my life and to the Jewish People. We were pioneers. What we did in those days was blindly inspirational.
That chapter in my life has come to an end, however. As of September, I will no longer be the executive director of Ve’ahavta, but will stay on as its ambassador.
The job description includes public speaking, writing and representing the organization, within and outside of the Jewish community. I am excited about the change.
How fortunate am I to live in a time when we are able to make decisions about our lives that our grandparents were not?
I am so lucky to have had the support of so many very generous board and staff members, who recognized the need to adjust the organization, in order to make it grow and prosper, but mostly to strengthen and enhance our world.
It is crucial that we who live in modern times take full advantage of it. Dream your destiny. Then stand up and leave the slipper factory. Some can’t, but should still try.