Next Generation of Jewish Leaders

Dear Friends,
Looking at the brokenness of the world and the challenges that Israel and the Jewish People face right now, it’s hard not to feel despair.
But this past week, I met with a group of young people who lifted my spirit and gave me hope for the future.
I had the privilege of speaking to a group of middle school students from the Rashi School who are participating in a Learning and Leadership Council with Jewish Family Service of Metrowest.
The students packed bags for new immigrants and refugees in the Boston area, living out the values of loving the stranger and caring for the vulnerable, which we read about in this week’s Torah portion. They have internalized that they are responsible for the dignity and well-being of every human being, and that they have roles to play in repairing the world.
Then, before my presentation, one of the students stood up to read a poem he wrote. I wasn’t sure what to expect, when he began:
I hear the cries of my people,
The sound of their suffering,
My heart aches for justice,
For a brighter tomorrow.

October 7 shook our lives, and we will push for safety.
No one can or will erase our identity.

The Jewish People have suffered,
Through many a dark night,
It’s time to stand up and fight,
For our equal rights.

A smile came across my face as I realized that this student had preempted the Jewish teaching I intended to share with them.
In Pirkei Avot 1:14, Hillel famously teaches: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am (only) for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” Jewish leadership, I told the students, requires us to take seriously both of Hillel’s first two statements and the inextricable link between them. For Hillel, connection to, identification with, and responsibility for ourselves and our own People are paired with — perhaps even foundational to — universal concern for the other and for humanity.
Rabbi Shai Held, in his new book Judaism Is About Love, describes what he calls “Judaism’s particularist universalism” and concentric circles of love and moral responsibility. He writes, “Partialists — myself included — (allow) that, ‘it is (not merely psychologically understandable but) morally correct to favor one’s own,’ those with whom we have personal ties of some kind. A significant part of what it means to have relationships with particular people is precisely to be partial toward them.”   
Especially right now, I suggested to these middle school students, we need Jewish leaders who know where they come from, who understand their People’s story, and who walk through the world proud to be part of and to stand up for the Jewish People, leaders who understand that they do not need to choose between their particular Jewish identities and their universal human values and concerns.
I'm so grateful to The Rashi School and to all our Jewish day schools, for developing the next generation of passionate repairers of the world and leader-warriors for the Jewish People. We need them, the Jewish People need them, and the world needs them.

Shabbat Shalom,  
Rabbi Marc Baker 

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