Not Completing the Task

As we absorbed the news last week out of Parkland – yet another mass shooting in yet another school – like so many of you I found myself enraged. But as time passes, I’ve also been struck by a sense of both despair and hope when I reflect on our work and my own responsibility as a community leader.

Though I am far from the only person to note this, I am saddened by my own cynicism in thinking that a nation unable to come together to address the scourge of gun violence after the slaughters of Newtown or Las Vegas (to cite just two examples) is unlikely to do so now. And yet I find hope in these young survivors of Parkland, who are bringing renewed energy to a long struggle. The profound and authentic anger of this generation, coming of age in the nineteen years since Columbine, is palpable; as is their indictment of adults who have failed to keep them safe. And their relentlessness in taking on a mantle of responsibility for their own safety and that of our nation is truly inspiring.

For us at JCRC, the commitment to gun violence prevention runs deep. We take pride in our participation in the Mass Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence and, most significantly, our investment in passing our state’s 2014 legislation – a measure that has resulted in Massachusetts having the lowest gun-related mortality rate in the nation.

I am also sobered by the realization that on this matter, as with so many of those we have taken on, the work is long-term. The thorniest and most critical issues we’ve tackled have known periods of great intensity, including big wins and painful losses; most often, they are enduring campaigns that span decades and are seemingly without end. Whether it be the fights for civil rights, building support for Israel against her demonizers, or the effort to expand the social safety net – these struggles play out over decades. Candidly, I am also at a stage of mid-life reflection, approaching fifty this year – increasingly aware that the odds of my being part of the culmination of successful efforts to achieve some of our most audacious and far-reaching goals during my career grow slimmer with each passing year. What keeps me from despair is the knowledge that if we nurture and support the next generation of leaders – eloquent and passionate young people like these riveting Parkland students commanding our attention right now – this sacred work will continue and ultimately bear fruit.

And so I think about ours and my own core imperative and responsibility to the generation that will follow; to affirm the continuing renaissance of the Jewish people and our dreams and aspirations, including as a force to make the world better for all people (to paraphrase the great teacher and Jewish leader Avraham Infeld). Part of that obligation is to ensure that the young people coming up now are skilled leaders, for the future and for right now.

It means making space for their leadership and lifting up their passions, their concerns, and their visions. It is in the willingness to bend to meet them where they are and be willing to follow them to places that may be discomforting or even jarring to us. We – and I – have a responsibility and opportunity to help them rise and hone their skills as leaders. We can offer our mentorship and impart lessons that were hard-earned for us, even as we remain open to lessons they will teach us. We can do everything possible to ensure that they have the skills and resources to lead their generation, and to take on the responsibility of continued renaissance for the one after them.

I am reminded of the teachings of the sacred Mishna, a text we often turn to for moral guidance in our work. In refusing to give into our cynicism and despair, in recommitting to supporting and developing the leadership of the next generation, we are acting upon the wisdom of Rabbi Tarfon: “It is not to you to complete the task, but neither are you free to stand aside from it.”

Shabbat Shalom,