Community and Leadership
I have been searching for other ways to describe what I was feeling throughout the events of this past Wednesday. How is it possible that such things were playing out in the United States Capitol and literally right before our eyes, before the eyes of the entire world?
A breakdown in our society.
Betrayed by our leaders.
The events of January 6 did not emerge out of the blue but were rather the not entirely unforeseeable result of a deterioration in our commitment to integrity and character that has increasingly afflicted our leaders, compromising our sense of decency as a society. We got here by way of a long and increasingly dark road, and there is a similarly long, and at this point, still murky path before us, if we hope to emerge back into the light.
Like a lot of people, I suppose, I have turned to family, to friends and to colleagues as I try to make sense of all this, and the conversation inevitably comes to the matter of what to do. What to do? Notably, this appears, to me, to be far less a time for individual action than it is about the power of community. We are remarkably fortunate to be in the business of community—of community-building. So, let this period of reflection begin with a look in the mirror—a stock-taking of who we are.
We are the Jewish town square, the one place in which can be found members of every stripe and style, the embodiment of a belief that the values and principles we hold in common matter far more than those about which we may disagree. JCCs are gatherers. Conveners. Gateways. Through participation in the JCC, any member of our community can find the way to just about everything the wider Jewish community has to offer. It isn’t necessary for us to own or provide every program and service, but it falls to us to ensure and to safeguard access to those who do. Our success, quite literally, is reflected in our diversity. A community is a mosaic, made more beautiful by the combination of its patterns, its textures, and its colors.
We are the Jewish community’s embassy to the wider geographies we serve. This role comes with great pride of purpose, an abiding commitment to embracing those who choose to be part of what we do, and an uncompromising determination to join hands with those around us to strengthen the broader communities we call home.
In a time of polarization and of the hyper politicization of words and ideas, the work of community-building takes on far greater importance. It is imperative that at such times, we proudly proclaim our commitment to building and strengthening community—and declaring unabashedly that our differences of opinion and position cannot negate our responsibilities to and for one another. Civil discourse and the provision of forums, both formal and informal, for their expression and deliberation promote understanding and make it possible for us to learn and to grow as individuals and as a society.
Something else has become patently clear. Leadership matters. Words matter. And we have a responsibility as citizens in a free society to hold our leaders accountable for their words and actions—as we must hold ourselves accountable. It will be easier to look to others to bring about the change—the healing—that is in such desperate need across the United States and beyond. But true leaders understand that it is amidst the most challenging times that we are pushed the hardest and that we must be more than what we had been before.
We bear great responsibility and extraordinary privilege. We are charged with building and strengthening community at a time in which the fabric of our society is being torn asunder. We are steeped, through age-old tradition and decades of direct experience, in the art of celebrating difference and diversity as a galvanizing principle. What’s the old line? “Two Jews – three opinions?” We have never been uniform in our outlook, our positions, or our individual priorities, but we have always understood that we are one people—one community—and there is a place in that community for each of us. So, let us rededicate ourselves to raising the bar on our commitment to being more. Let us reaffirm our determination to lead, mindful of the impact of our words and our example. Let us, therefore, play this critical part in bringing light into the darkness and illuminating the path forward—together.