Blog  NFTY-PAR: Accepting Social Action through the Parsha

NFTY-PAR: Accepting Social Action through the Parsha

By Hannah Breslau, PARTY SAVP

Tonight I want to start off by talking about the funnels. I will get to the parsha in a second, but I really want to start with funnels (so bear with me). I am positive that almost all of you are familiar with the funnel model, or something similar. Anyone who has participated in planning an event, discussion, or speech has used the funnel model in some way shape or form. The funnel model is the idea of going from broad expansive ideas, getting gradually more specific, and eventually ending with you and your own personal experiences. Tonight, I would like to flip the funnel around. I want to start with you, and I want you to start thinking bigger and broader. I want you to start thinking beyond yourself. And I would really love for you to apply that thinking to the rest of this weekend.

Now, I know we don’t do this very often so allow me to demonstrate, with (aha) tonight’s parsha. Yitro. Yitro is made up of two distinct parts, the first is one of the most poignant, meaningful, and important moments in the entire torah, central to Jewish learning and Jewish life, and the other is the Ten Commandments. And I think most of you have a general understanding of what those are, thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, talk at the movies, etc. so I think we can revisit about those at a later date. Right now I’d really like to focus on the first part, the part about Yitro (or Jethro in American speak). In this reading, Moses is freaking out because God has put him in charge of an entire population and given him very vague instructions. Yitro, Moses’ father in-law, comes to Moses and advises him to seek help. Jethro distributes power among key members of the Jewish people, and puts them in charge of smaller sub-groups thus making Moses’ job as a leader significantly more manageable, and here we are today.

Earlier in the service, members of PARTY board recounted for you moments in which they felt like Moses. Having to put away their pride and accept help from a friend or relative. This is the first step of what I have just decided to call the Reverse Funnel Model (I’m getting it patented).

  • Step 1: We assess ourselves. We apply the parsha to our own lives.
  • Step 2: Think a little bigger. Where have we seen it happen outside of ourselves. A time that we observed and weren’t involved.
  • Step 3: Where do we see it in our greater community.
  • Step 4: In our country. In our world. And lets stop there for now.

Where do we find Moses and Jethro in our greater surroundings? I believe we find Moses in underserved and underprivileged communities. I think we find Moses in vulnerable people, whether that is due to abuse, homelessness, poverty, mental illness you name it — people who have been dealt an extremely difficult hand, with very vague instructions. And you can probably guess where this is going, WE are expected to be Jethro.

Celebrating Shabbat at Temple Sinai

Celebrating Shabbat at Temple Sinai

Now, here is where it gets complicated. Think back to a few minutes ago, listening to those readings about how difficult it was for your peers to be Moses. How difficult it was to accept help, to lay down one’s pride and receive assistance. Imagine how hard it is for people, for families, to the seek help they need in places like homeless shelters, food stamps, or the food bank. Places and things associated with helplessness, weakness, and sometimes laziness and complacency. Now, here lies a critical disconnect, and common misconception. While we are lucky that these institutions exist, it’s not enough. We can only rely on these places to temporarily alleviate the pain of a much greater struggle. We are not Jethro if we expect homeless shelters to stop homelessness, if we expect goodwill to eliminate poverty, if we expect a donation to a women’s shelter to end domestic violence. Because what Jethro did was not charity. It was social action. This is an important distinction. Jethro didn’t have god whispering in his ear telling him what to do. Jethro didn’t have to worry about saving the posterity of the Jewish people. But he turned his privilege into responsibility. Jethro didn’t just assist Moses, he didn’t just help Moses out now and then, he didn’t treat Moses like a helpless victim. Jethro changed the system. He created an environment in which Moses’ burden was more easily dealt with. He made Moses’ burden, everyone’s burden. If we, as a Jewish people are commanded to be Jethro, this is what we must do, Social Action.

This means going to the root of an issue, any issue, and actively working to change the circumstances in which this issue exists, thus creating long term, even permanent change. Now, please don’t think that I am knocking the importance of shelters, and food banks and the like. These things are important sources of support, however I believe we can do so much more. I realize that at this point you’re all probably overwhelmed or have completely checked out, and I get it. Some random girl standing on the bimah telling you that you’re responsible for solving the world’s issues, its probably not fun. But hear me out for just a few minutes more. It’s not as crazy as you might think. I’m not saying that its Paulee’s job alone to end Racism, or Mike’s job alone to fix the education disparity. Jewish teachings tell us “You are not required to finish the work. Neither are you free to disist from it.” We do what we can. Its not on you to solve the world’s issue, but it is on you to try. So go ahead and try. Find something, a cause, or a case that bothers you or that you feel passionate about. It could be ANYTHING, ranging from the environment to marriage equality to the stray rabbit problem. Dedicate yourself to that cause, do what you can. Encourage your school to compost, lobby your representatives or start a petition. You name it. Be Active. Change the system.

Our generation has been labeled the “Millenials” In the words of Madison Montgomery, “They call us the global generation. We are known for our entitlement and narcissism. Some say it’s because we’re the first generation where every kid gets a trophy just for showing up. Others think it’s because social media allows us to post when we fart or have a sandwich for all the world to see…but it seems our one defining trait is a numbness to the world. An indifference to suffering.” We have been deemed doomed by our parents and grandparent’s generation and I think it’s a big load of bull-crap. Because what I see in front of me is a community of incredibly intelligent, motivated, caring, capable individuals. There is so much potential just sitting here in this room. You are all capable of creating lasting and effective change in your communities and around the world. You are all capable of social action, and the achievement of social justice.