Earlier this month, the Alliance hosted a thought-provoking Leadership Summit for our local synagogues and agencies, which was attended by more than 90 lay and professional leaders from 17 Jewish communal organizations. We gathered to hear nationally renowned guest speaker, Rabbi Sid Schwarz, fascinatingly challenge the status quo of current Jewish institutional leadership and advocate for the paradigm shifts that Jewish millennials have begun to successfully embrace. During his presentation, Rabbi Schwartz provided three examples from his past that influenced his future professional career and personal ethos.
Since that night, I have begun reflecting about my past in order to determine which events might have impacted who I am today. Although I could point to many such occurrences (e.g. being co-president of my rather non-Jewish high school’s Jewish Student Union, my marital ketubbah ceremony, becoming a father, chanting the aliyah at my respective daughters’ b’not mitzvah), I would like to share a story that triggered my passion for championing for the most vulnerable members of our Jewish community. In December of 1992, as a new board member of the Jewish Big Brother and Big Sister Association of Greater Boston, I was asked to serve latkes and sufganiyot at its annual Hanukkah party. Generally speaking, the children to whom I served food that evening came from a combination of single parent families, severely ill caretakers, economically deprived conditions, and difficult residential or familial environments. Yet the loving compassion and guidance I witnessed that the big siblings bestowed upon their little mentees, and the joy and appreciation these young children and adolescents experienced eating the holiday foods, spinning the dreidels, and opening their presents, has never left me. I remember thinking how lucky was I that I had the most wonderful parents, sibling, spouse and daughters, but for me to be completely whole, I needed to begin seriously devoting my time, however and wherever feasible, to benefit those less fortunate than I. And as such, what was supposed merely to be an obligatory 20 minute serving stint has turned into a 25-year journey of self-discovery, chesed, and yes, jelly donuts.
So I ask, have you ever had an “aha” moment (or more) that so profoundly influenced your life? Perhaps it might be a fun, affirming exercise for you to reflect a bit as well as we embark upon this long holiday weekend.
Shabbat Shalom and all my best,