I attend Sabbath services almost every Saturday morning at Congregation Beth Israel. It is my chance to have at least 90 minutes of down time to reflect on the week that’s passed and look forward to the week ahead. The Saturday service a few weeks ago was conducted by the 10th graders that were being confirmed at the temple. They each played an active part in the service, sharing their reasons for continuing their religious education and their hopes for the future, saying the prayers and reading from the Torah.
Amy’s speech started much like the others; she talked about her experiences in confirmation class, the friends she made. But it was her very clear statement of purpose that her connection to Judaism and her commitment to “tikkun olam, repairing the world” was what motivated her the most.
“For me, living like I am Jewish means that I am on a mission to repair the world. In order for me to feel like I am Jewish and embrace Judaism I have to be helping other people and be making the world a better place.”
Wow. How does a 10th grader have such a clear grasp on the concept of giving back? My family is big on volunteering. As kids we were always involved in some project or another – volunteering at the senior center, gift-wrap booths at the holidays, working the overnight shift at a telethon. But I’m fairly certain as I was doing those activities I wasn’t thinking about the impact it would have on the world.
So listening to Amy got me thinking about our role in society, how what we say and do really matters. This is not a religious thing, this is a people thing…we should all make a commitment to make the world a better place. As an adult, I continue to volunteer for a variety of organizations and financially support others. I know that I’m making a difference, but even as I think about my role with these organizations, really hadn’t given much thought to the kind of power that one small act can do. If you volunteer, you do it because it is the right thing to do, but do you really understand how right it is?
It is customary at a service like this for the clergy to say a few words to the confirmands. And what Rabbi Rony Keller said further resonated with me in terms of the impact each of us has on society and our responsibility for giving back.
He told the story of a rabbi whose important lesson to his students is that each of us can teach us something. "What can we learn from a train?" one student asked. "That because of one second one can miss everything." "And from the telegraph?" "That every word is counted and charged." And the telephone?" "That what we say here is heard there."
So what we can learn from Amy? That we should all do what we can to be better. After all, if a 10th grader can make that commitment, shouldn’t we?
(This was originally posted at http://blog.lodestar.asu.edu/2013/05/you-can-learn-something-from-everything.html)