Monthly Archives: February 2012

Are we Proactive or Reactive?

Do we wait for a problem to occur and then deal with that issue as it arises or do we make a concerted effort to ensure that such a problem never occurs in our community? We still need to be reactive and deal with issues as they arise, but our vision should be a big picture vision, a proactive vision, in which such an issue does not exist at all!

Previously, the Jacksonville Jewish Center, as well as many Jewish communal institutions, has successfully been reactive to bullying. We teach our children what to do if they are bullied or if they see someone else being bullied. We teach them how to identify physical, social, verbal, emotion, and cyber bullying. We teach them whom the adults are that they should turn to for help if they experience bullying. These are all essential reactive techniques. However, these are responses which accept that the reality of bullying takes place.

As the New Year approached, I believed that we should set out to achieve a new mission in 2012, a mission where our Makom Kodesh, our Sacred Space is a Safe Space. Such a change would become an institution-wide initiative in which we would rid our schools and youth programs (and even adult programming) of bullying. We would go from being reactive in response to bullying to proactive in an attempt to prevent bullying.

Last week, Dr. Jon Mitzmacher, Martin J. Gottlieb Day School Head of School, shared in a blog post about the steps that have been taken to evaluate what bullying admittedly takes place in our institution as well as what we must do to proactively prevent it! From this, he launched the creation of #CommunityOfKindness. Imagine if we focused on the power of treating others with love and respect instead of how to respond when someone mistreats or bullies another. Included in this blog was an initial video, offering a charge for us to move forward in an effort to achieve our mission. This initial video was just one of many two-minute videos that clergy, educators, staff, professionals, laity, and students will create in our community in an effort to teach kindness and stamp out hate and ignorance.

Here is the next video (which I created) in our on-going series, in which members of our community offer, in their own words, what kindness (Hesed) means:

The Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, defined “Kindness” as anything one does for another person without expecting anything in return. Yet, the reality is that we are kind because we hope others will also be kind. After all, the Talmud teaches that being kind and loving to others is the essence of what the Torah is trying to teach us:

In the famous Talmudic Tale (Shabbat 31a,) we learn of a gentleman who came before the famous rabbi Shammai and offered to convert to Judaism if Shammai could teach him the entire Torah while he standing on one foot. Shammai pushed him away, believing that such a challenge was absurd and impossible. He then approached another famous rabbi, Hillel, who often disagreed with Shammai. The man offered the same challenge to Hillel and without pausing for a moment, Hillel responded: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the entire Torah, the rest is simply commentary.”

Hillel believed that the whole Torah is meant to teach us how we should treat others. The Torah is meant to teach us to be kind! Hillel ended with his own charge: zil gamor, now go and learn it!

As we learned in the reading of last week’s Torah portion, Parashat Mishpatim, when the Israelites accepted the Torah (and apparently its essential message of Kindness,) they accepted it with the words Na’aseh v’Nishmah, meaning “we will do and we will understand” (Ex. 24:7). Such a statement is a promise of the people that we will learn the true messages of the Torah (Nishmah) and we will make sure to put them in action (Na’aseh). Thus, we cannot stand by and be reactive. We must be proactive. We must Go and Learn. We must Learn and Do. We must be kind. We live a life of Torah by creating a Community of Kindness.


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Hearing is Believing

When I became Bar Mitzvah, I decided that I wanted to do something special to ensure that all who were present were fully able to participate in the service and connect to the liturgy. I realized that members of the deaf community often had trouble participating when so much of communal prayer in Jewish settings was focused on participatory singing. I decided as I prepared to lead services, I would learn certain prayers in American Sign Language (ASL) and sign them as I davened, thus truly being a shaliach tzibur (A messenger of the community’s prayers) for all who were present. I learned to sign the words of the Shema and quickly learned that the deaf community were challenged by the words of the Shema. How could they sign the word for Shema (mean “Hear”) when they were hearing-impaired? Instead, the conclusion was to use the sign for “pay attention” or “focus” because that it what we are truly doing when we hear. When we tell someone to “listen up” we are actually telling them to do more than listen; we are asking them to pay attention.

This past Shabbat, we read Parashat Yitro, in which the Israelites receive the Aseret Dibrot, the ten commandments, following the Exodus from Egypt. After leading the Children of Israel to freedom, Moses is reunited with his family, including his father-in-law, Jethro, the Highpriest of Midian. Chapter 18 of the book of Exodus begins with Yitro, Jethro, hearing all that God had done for Moses and the Israelites. Yitro heard of all of this and rejoiced with the words: Baruch Adonai, Blessed is God. 

The Israelites experienced God’s omnipotence firsthand. They witnessed the ten plagues and crossed through the split sea. They experienced God’s greatest of miracles, bringing them from slavery to freedom, with an strong hand and outstretched arm. Yet, they continued to complain. They whined and lacked faith.

But Jethro was already a man of God. He had faith. He simply heard of God’s wonders and believed. So too, this is our hope and our prayer. To hear of God’s wonders and believe. Shema Yisrael. Hear O’ Israel. Hear God’s wonders and believe. Have faith. Hearing of God’s wonders leads to believing that such wonders are possible. With faith – by believing-  we will truly be able to see and experience God’s wonders as well.

 -Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

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