After Pittsburgh: A Call To Service For Baby Boomers?

It has been just a little over a week. One Shabbat has come and gone since Pittsburgh. The vigils are over. The Shabbat of Solidarity has passed. As I sat with my family and grandchildren this past Friday evening at services, I was struck by both the normalcy of it as well as the rarity. A service that honored teachers and second graders, usually attended by family members and the “regulars”, now swelled to almost capacity by the need to be “in community”.  And again, I could not help but wonder as to what our generation is leaving as a legacy for these grandchildren.

Pittsburgh may have changed the calculus of how we see ourselves within the so-called safety net of the USA. Only time will tell. Certainly, the words that categorize any group as “the other” should make us cringe. A sadness is that so few of our community know or study history because many of the words we hear have been used before and when used before usually have foreshadowed trouble for us. So can Pittsburgh be a launching pad for a Baby  Boomer re-engagement with society? This is a time for our generation of Jews to remember our own social history. SO many of us marched and walked, volunteered and did something to help change the social fabric of our country. In the life time of my rabbinate, some 40 plus years, we can look back on great social innovations that spoke to the issue of inclusion and equality. Is there a danger that we have become a little too complacent? A little too comfortable? What Pittsburgh may do is spark a renewed sense of identity and a renewed call for action on the part of our generation. So many of us have answered that call to “give back” to society and to our community. Yet, the instances of recent days and weeks need to be, as the Shofar on the Holidays, a call to action.

There is a huge reservoir of life experience contained within the Jewish Baby Boomer cohort. I call it spiritual capital and it goes, most often, unspent. There is a world that needs this capital; be it mentoring programs, volunteering, political activism, tutoring, teaching or whatever your passion may be. This is not only about changing the social fabric of our society, it is really, more importantly I feel, about our own legacy. What DO we wish to leave to our grandchildren and children? They are watching and they do remember. The reality of instances of  anti-Semitism, which we are told has risen 57% in the last two years, should be a “wake up” call for our community. Are we more secure and safer than almost any other Jewish community in history? Yes…..BUT…the reality of our present world calls on us to not rest on a perceived sense of comfort. This is a time for renewed communal activism and involvement. The “spiritual capital” and life experience of so many Boomers can serve as a means of linking generations, opening communication and strengthening community.

The Torah portion for Nov. 10.11 speaks to the issue of generations. Toldot may be seen as a symbol of the pivotal point at which we find ourselves. We can stand aside and allow strife and conflict and hate. Or we can seek reconciliation, purpose and acceptance. The value of chesed, kindness, has never been needed more. We are reminded in Pirke Avot that we are not responsible for saving the entire world, but we are responsible for saving the part that we inhabit. There is so much that we, as a generation of “seekers” can still do. This is a call to action for us. Those children are watching.


Rabbi Richard F Address

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