This Friday, a message from Deputy Director Nahma Nadich.
This week has been painful for us at JCRC. Due to the COVID-related economic crisis, we made the excruciating decision to suspend programs we value, and to lay off staff we cherish. Afterward, we gathered together as a team to reflect and to mourn. One of the staff members who will be leaving us asked if he could speak briefly to his peers. What he said astonished us.
He cited a teaching from the Jewish ethical practice of Mussar about the trait of hakarat hatov—recognition of and gratitude for what is good in the world. Our beloved colleague went on to express his profound appreciation for his years at JCRC; the opportunity to put his Jewish values into practice and to be part of an organization whose mission was so central to his identity. We listened to our open-hearted friend and were moved to tears.
I’ve been thinking about that astonishing moment ever since. What would it mean if each of us were able to summon that kind of gratitude, even in the darkest moments we face? And what might we find to be thankful for at a moment like this one—in the midst of an unprecedented global pandemic, an economic recession, and a country erupting over centuries of injustice and brutality?
We might look around us and marvel at the ways in which people are rising to the moment, exhibiting courage and creativity that buoy us and expand our imagination. Synagogues and other houses of worship have expanded beyond the four walls of their currently empty buildings, meeting the needs of their newly expanded community, and welcoming the participation of double and triple the number of people they once engaged.
Against all odds, this is a time when many of us have not only resisted isolation but managed to deepen our connection to friends and family – sometimes on screens, sometimes outdoors, yelling across distances to be heard. We’ve discovered new ways to envision family get-togethers and holiday celebrations. Some of us have become reacquainted with the adults our children have become, as we find ourselves living in close quarters after years of separation, discussing and debating the pressing issues of the day.
On our daily walks, we may be more attuned to the miracles of nature unfolding around us; sights that perhaps went unnoticed in our previously packed lives. On our infrequent trips to the grocery store, we may now be expressing our (shamefully) newfound appreciation for the workers who sustain us through their service, even at potential risk to their own health.
If we were to acknowledge the good as a collective, we would celebrate the impulse of our community members to serve others and reach out to those whose world has been most upended by this pandemic. We would be heartened by the myriad ways in which they have chosen to roll up their sleeves to deliver food, donate funds, and offer companionship, whether virtually or in person.
And we would be in awe of the sustained and determined action of so many across our country and across the globe, taking to the streets to insist that this country treat all its residents with the full humanity they deserve. We might even see glimmers of hope that change is coming, perhaps even setting this country on a path toward achieving its still unrealized ideals.
Acknowledging the good cannot diminish the very real suffering of this moment, and it must not minimize the profound brokenness of this country and this world. But being mired in the pain of this moment can crush us with despair—and obscure our vision from seeing the yetzer hatov, the universal human impulse for good, that can renew our spirit and our belief in the promise of a better future.
Thanks to a wise and gracious colleague, I’m ending a very sad week with a sense of gratitude and appreciation for blessings that too often go unnoticed. I invite us all to heed his sage words, and to take stock of all that is good and hopeful in a world we seek to repair.