Jewish Globally, Acting Locally

July 9, 2012
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Home can be the hardest place to be.

Often it is.

Joyous, memory filled, and ruthless in telling us the truth about who we were, where we came from, and who we have become, our roots are just that, the core, the source… and where the work needs to be done.

It is our challenges that make us, yes?

It is the fights we choose and the way that we face them that mold us, many would say.

Just this past week, at a wedding, I spoke with a former US Marine about his service in Iraq.  The young man with a sharp, kind face and good posture spoke to me about the “moral imperative” we had, as a nation, in going to war.

I could not outright disagree, but only redirect the thought with questions: How is it we can even attempt such a feat when our own house is so shaky?  How can we support the military-industrial machine when those resources could support thousands of domestic jobs, infrastructure, social measures, environmental and renewable energy initiatives?

It bothers me that a handful of bombs used but once costs as much as a teacher’s salary for a year.  My new friend could not disagree, but could not fully accept that maybe there is something else we should be (and should have been) doing with our time and money and energy.

Another question: How is it we can watch videos of children dying in Somalia, wrench our hearts, give, and yet find it hard to look an impoverished person in the eye on the street asking for but a coin?

This question is not a criticism, nor is it rhetorical, for it is universal, but is meant as a thought experiment for awareness and deepening our understanding of the human condition today.  It is also not a new question.  It is one that has been asked over, and over again, heard likely numerous times by present readers of these thoughts.  And yet, it has something very special to do with this month’s Sh’ma.

Is America home to diaspora Jews or is Israel?  Do we have a dual home, never having been truly accepted anywhere without totally blending in first?  Are Jews an unusual and unique case, where we can feel connected to a place having, for many, never been there or really understanding its culture?

I was born in New York City, lived in it most of my life; I just came back from a year living in Israel. One lesson, among many that I received, is that I am not Israeli, but I am Jewish, an American Jew, and my culture is very different from other Jews around the world. A more important lesson perhaps was a reaffirmation that everywhere in the world, people are suffering, and while I was studying sustainability in the Negev, back at home in New York, there was much left to be done.

Jews around the world though do share a common bond, perhaps a shared responsibility, and most definitely we share a great opportunity.  We exist everywhere and yet are at home everywhere, maybe not every individual, but certainly as a collective.  If we, as Jews, allow individuals to exist in our own cultures, do the good work where “home” is, but use our international connectivity to strengthen ourselves and our efforts – that would be truly great.

Perhaps real Jewish culture is in the breadth of our diversity. Maybe, instead of trying to pull everyone together, we can use our cultural differences as our greatest strength.  Such joy it would be to know that the next time I looked a person in the eye and placed a coin in an open hand, that Jews around the world were doing the same, empowering me, willing me to do the same.

Now that would be something to write home about.

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Lee Frankel-Goldwater is a professional environmental educator, writer, and social good project developer as well as a recent graduate of NYU's Environmental Conservation Education masters program. Lee has also studied at the Center for Creative Ecology on Kibbutz Lotan, Israel and at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies. Currently he has been leading development of the Global Action Classroom, an Earth Child Institute initiative focused on global youth environmental cooperation and helping to create the Global Sustainability Fellows, a program of The Sustainability Laboratory seeking to design a new and innovative, international sustainability masters program. Other projects include: developing mobile applications for encouraging social action, mixed media video design, leading peace and environmental education workshops, and doing his best to live a life in connection with the Earth while helping others to do the same. At heart Lee is a poet, traveler, musician, and philosopher with a deep curiosity for new experiences, unfamiliar cultures, learning languages, and often dancing to the beat of a different drummer. As student of yoga, meditation, and spiritual arts, Lee aims to connect the inner journey with the outer one, hoping, as he can, to share what is learned along the way, enjoying the journey.

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