I’ll say it: This has a been a crazy year, filled with many shocks and surprises.
On a personal level, I feel blessed — blessed that my family is healthy, blessed to be involved with Ramah Darom, blessed to work with a team of professionals and volunteers who are passionate about building Jewish community, and blessed to be part of an enterprise that engages so many young and old people in finding joy and meaning in Judaism.
Yet I will admit that I am troubled by the tumult in the world around us. What is sad is that what once would have been shocking — the lack of civility in daily discourse, the unleashing of racial hatreds — have become the norm. With each new daily outrage, or news that the world has become unhinged, I ask myself, “Who am I, why am I here, and what can I do to make a difference?”
I found inspiration and something to ponder in a quote from Shimon Peres.
Peres died a year ago, on Sept. 28, 2016, just a few days before the High Holidays. He was interviewed on the eve of his 87th birthday in 2010 and was asked, “What would you like to pass on to your grandchildren?”
He replied, “The most important thing in life is to dare. The most complicated thing in life is to be afraid. The smartest thing in life is to try to be a moral person. There is no greater wisdom.”
I’ve read this over and over again: “The smartest thing in the world is to try to be a moral person. There is no greater wisdom.”
As we engage in our own self-reflection during this month of Elul, each of us might ask, “What does it mean to try to be a moral person? And what did Peres mean when he called it ‘the smartest thing in life’?”
We live in a world where the normal bounds of what we have known as moral behavior are eroding before our eyes. If this concerns you as much as it does me, I would ask: How can you and I make a difference?
Our High Holiday prayers remind us that our ability to affect community begins with our own personal behavior — how we treat others, our family, our friends, and, yes, the stranger — and in our responsibility to our community — what actions we take to support those individuals and organizations that make a difference in creating and sustaining a just community.
While the barrage of daily news reports tries to persuade us that the world is terribly messed up, ask yourself: What if the world is better than that? And what am I willing to do to make it so?
From Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, I will be asking myself these very questions, and I will be praying for the wisdom and courage to make a difference in the world.
I encourage you to do what you can and then do just a little bit more.
At Ramah Darom we will continue our efforts to enrich Jewish community by offering exceptional experiences in Jewish living and learning — Camp Ramah Darom, our Camp Yofi for families of autistic children, the numerous programs we offer throughout the year, including our partnership with Limmud Atlanta + Southeast — and in making our Kaplan Mitchell Retreat and Conference Center available to Jewish groups of all kinds for their own programs and events.
On behalf of the board of directors and staff of Ramah Darom, I wish you all shana tova u’metuka. May you and your loved ones be blessed with a year of good health, happiness, peace and prosperity.
Fred Levick is the CEO of Ramah Darom.