One Small Miracle at a Time: Using the metaphor of the dreidel as a symbol of our uncertainty
December brings us the festival of Hannukah, with its focus on family, foods and faith. Among the festive customs is the game of "dreidel" which leaves success or failure in the hands of chance. This Hannukah season the dreidel may be experienced as a metaphor for what is happening to us and to our communities in the face of the downturn of the economy. At times, it really does seem as if our lives are "spinning" and that we are unable to control where or how we will land. It is all so random, so anxiety provoking and so seemingly out of our hands. For many of us caught in this spinning, we would be happy for a small miracle, let alone a "great" one. In fact if we to truly celebrate Hannukah this year, we need to move beyond the dreidel to the more sustaining messages of the holiday.
Surrounded by uncertainty and some fear, the Jewish community now confronts the impact of economic challenges not seen in decades. All through our congregations, organization and families, we hear the question being asked, "what can we do"? Few segments of the community are being spared some impact. Every one reading this knows someone or knows firsthand the impact of what is taking place in society. None of us will be unaffected. Again, the community has a choice as to how to respond. In such challenging time, our congregations are presented with a unique opportunity to reach in to their membership and create avenues and pathways for support, caring and community. The challenge is not to succumb to the wave of gloom and doom , but to rise above the noise and return to the classic Jewish values of being responsible for each other, of never standing idle while one's fellow human beings are suffering. It is a time for an abundance of small miracles. It is a time for re-infusing each of us with a sense that being a Jew means kindling and sustaining light where there is darkness.
It is time for our rabbis to use the power of their pulpits to teach patience, compassion and Torah. It is a time for our congregations to model how they can insure that no one is left out or made to feel "alone." It is time to extend the hand of love and caring so that no one in our community is allowed to "fall through the cracks". It is a time to put people and their needs at the center of our concerns, not money or membership of numbers. It is a time for developing caring programs to provide economic, material , emotional and spiritual support to our own people of all ages. The young person laid off from his job, the middle aged man or woman who is being squeezed to do more and does so with growing anxiety, the older adult who watches a planned nest egg slowly decline amidst raising concerns of personal health and wellness, the single mom or dad whose worries escalate as their ability to provide for their family and themselves. To these and more the doors of our congregations and institutions must stand as a welcoming non-judgmental haven. If we cannot be there in times of challenge, then why would anyone take us seriously in times of plenty?
We accomplish these responses not only through programs, but through the creation of a culture of concern and caring where each individual is seen as valued, cared for and affirmed. Creating an ecology of caring and an environment of support has never been more present. Present within every congregation are untapped human resources that, when brought together to envision a response, will come forward and rise to the needs of their own community and ultimately to those beyond their community. We need not be afraid to ask. Failure to do so will further reduce our synagogues and institutions to the margins of our people's lives. This is a time for vision and leadership on the part of communal leadership. We cannot solve all the problems and challenges of this economy and its impact on our people and our world, but we can move forward, one relationship at a time. We can come through these difficult times with a renewed sense that being Jewish and belonging to a congregation can be transforming and sustaining to us and to the larger world.
A story is told of a man walking along a beach that is covered with star fish that had been washed up on the shore. As he walked, he spotted a lone man who would stop and throw a star fish back into the ocean. Seeing this, the man approached this stranger and asked why he was doing something that seemed so futile. After all, he reasoned, since he could not possible save all these star fish, what difference could he, just one man, make? The other man, bent down and reached for a lone star fish and replied, to this star fish, it makes a difference! It is time to make a difference.
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min
Rabbi Edythe Mencher, LCSW, Caring Community Specialist for Jewish Family Concern