Rosh HaShana is for all of us a time for reflection and introspection.
One of my favorite correspondents (and constant critics) sent me one of Teddy Roosevelt's quotes, at it happened one quoted by President Obama in his speech to the Democratic National Convention:
"It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better," Roosevelt said. "The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood -- who strives valiantly, who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming."This was sent obviously as a shot across my bow; sent by one whom I had defended after my correspondent's return from a failed leadership mission to Argentina when our system's leaders wanted him removed from any and all leadership tracks and whom I later supported for his quest for the Chairmanship of one of our system's agencies. But, I get it.
My personal critic's message (which, knowing him, was bcc'ed to many) seemed to be that only if you are in current leadership may you (or, in my case, is it restricted to "I") offer criticism -- of anything; be it of the most minor to the most egregious -- and each of those occurs with too great a regularity at 25 Broadway. Also, it is clear, even if you gave up 4 years of your life to achieve the merger that has been so deconstructed by a succession of failed professional leaders slavishly enabled by a succession of lay leaders, including my correspondent, who knew better while wearing blinders designed to block out all of the on-going reality -- even those 4 years and all the investment prior thereto, mean that you (that means "I," of course) should just shut up and skulk off quietly. But not while the disintegration of all that and I and you have worked for for too long continues. Abject acquiescence to mediocrity and, worse, failure have become the hallmarks of today's leaders -- even worse than that, some of them believe that things are just great!!
When I received my community's highest honor in 2002, I recommitted myself to do everything I could from that day forward to deserve it. Pure and simple, I had to that moment been inculcated by those who preceded me with a set of communal values unsurpassed in the annals of the Jewish federation system. Long before that my parents had infused me with our Jewish values.
And, of course, it would have been and still would be so easy to just walk away from the "hot mess" that JFNA has been allowed to become by this generation of leaders. But that would not have been me. It's pretty clear what will happen to anyone (well, almost any one, it won't happen to any mega-donor -- or anyone of importance who might then be stroked into acquiescence) in organized Jewish life if you "get out of line." Today, the organizational overlords demand that amcha keep clear of all those who are not in their thrall. Question them, and they tend to get touchy...or worse, much worse. But it was not always that way. My mentors, lay and professional, in Chicago and nationally, encouraged debate, open questioning and dissent; bless them. In all of my leadership roles, I had tried to do the same.
Yes, I was taught by wonderful lay and professional leaders many of whom, to my eternal sorrow, now find me to be a pariah...taught the values that I, in turn, was so fortunate to be able to instill in others. What so many of my friends and those not my friends have demanded of me is that I abandon those values; yes, the very ones that they had instilled in me. Some might argue in response that all they wanted was my silence, that I forfeit the responsibilities that they once demanded of me. And that I just can't do.
We have succeeded (when we did succeed) because we and our communities and our organizations were propelled forward by those values and we will fail because today those values are paid nothing more than lip service. More's the pity. And, it just does nit need to be that way.
Teddy Roosevelt is one of my heroes. My friend's quote is meaningful to me. So is:
"In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing."Or...
Of course, my friend didn't send me those quotes -- they were inconsistent with his narrative; but not with mine.
"Much has been given us, and much will rightfully be expected from us. We have duties to others and duties to ourselves; and we can shirk neither."
Sure, life would have been and would be so much easier if I could have put on blinders and prism rose-colored glasses, ignored all of that which all of us see. So many friends would have been happy; I might even have been invited to some of the best parties. Of course, then, I could not have looked at myself in the mirror; I wouldn't have been true to the values taught to me by so many of you, shared with so many of you, ignored by so many. Yet, were I to ignore what I see in front of me, while life might be easier but I would not be true to myself.
But, of all the quotes, the one which has inspired me, buoyed me, and has been with me since I first heard it in 1980, is this:
“The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream will never die.”Think about it.
A shana tova u'metukah to each and all of you and your families. And wouldn't now be the time to heed the call and "STAND UP FOR TRUTH."