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Being Human Being Jewish Being Human

Dear Harvey,

. . . . The highlight of the year for me was the Jewish Leaders' Conference in Jerusalem. I think I am so lucky that I got to meet other raised-working-class Jews in RC.

When I returned from Israel, my rabbi asked me to speak about the conference at synagogue. I gave the sermon one Friday night in November and spoke about the RC Community, Jewish liberation in RC, and the nations represented at the conference. I also spoke about Israel and the necessity for us as Diaspora Jews to re-examine our relationship to that country, to imagine a world in which we are already safe. The talk was well received, particularly by the older members of our congregation who said the optimistic view of Israel was a novel one.

Two unexpected things happened after that. First, the newly elected synagogue president asked me to tell him more about RC and how I could help him revitalise the synagogue board. He created a new board position for me which he called Human Relations, and now he runs board meetings using the Wygelian leaders' format.

Then the rabbi asked me to take a formal paid job in our little religious school, teaching the eight to ten year olds for three hours a week. In recent years I have been helping him informally with the religious school and tutoring a few young people who are preparing for bar and bat mitzvah. Taking responsibility for a dozen children for the whole year seemed like a big step, but I noticed that he was utterly confident I would accept and do the job well.

I am also reaching out more at my children's school. In addition to teaching the Jewish festivals in the primary school, I began this year to offer a Co-Counselling class for the fourteen and fifteen year olds in the high school. I've just started it, and I am guessing that the person who will benefit the most is the headmaster, who finds RC theory (about the oppression of young people) the most coherent expression of what he thought was his own idiosyncratic view of adolescence.

You know the phrase "the personal is political"? For me, the personal is political is spiritual. I just don't see any great conflicts between RC and my life as an observant Jew. All the values I take for granted are comprehensible in RC terms. We agree to live together as a community (kehilla), which means we take on challenges as a community, not as individuals in isolation. (We don't expect individuals to struggle with, for example, illnesses and deaths on their own.) We agree to choose principled behaviour over thoughtless action (mitzvot), and this includes explicit rules about respectful speech and refraining from gossip and criticism (loshon hora). We make a rational decision about rest and meaningful holidays weekly (shabbat) with some understanding that our "time out" must be time away from the grind of production and consumption. Our annual cycle, through the New Year and Passover and back again, gives us many opportunities to refresh our view of ourselves as free (i.e., liberated) humans, with daily choices about correct action towards our fellow humans. These actions are based on liberation for all humans through justice and love (tzedakah v'chesed), not charity. Our task is to fix things up, whether we call it redemption, or tikkun olam, or beauty and order.

Teaching RC (or teaching anything else for that matter) is an excellent expression of this inherently human task. We build within our Co-Counselling relationships a model of the benign reality (the I-thou). For Jews, teaching is a sacred task, and for me as an RC teacher it is both political and spiritual, as well as personal. I think the reason RC is so easily understood by all humans is that these values are not just RC values, or Jewish values. They are a description of the inherent human condition of goodness.

You and I shared a wink and a grin when you were in Sydney recently. This reminds me to tell you a story I keep meaning to pass on, about a little boy I heard about.

He had very bright eyes and an open smile, really a gorgeous little face. He was full of fun, loved to do things all the time, and was very busy in and out of mischief and using every bit of his little body all day long. The really compelling thing about the lad, though, was his strength with other boys and girls: he was drawn towards them and they to him as if by invisible threads. And as he grew, these threads thickened and stretched and grew, too, until, as a young man, he was almost enmeshed: everywhere he went with those bright eyes and open smile, he was pulling along more and more people with him. (It felt to him sometimes as though he would stumble and fall under the burden, but he never did. And there were times when he pulled in all kinds of people that he never expected to be drawn to, but never mind. When you cast such a fine, wide net you must expect to be surprised by the catch.) And so he went on, into the bright strength of his manhood, drawn to others and drawing others along with him, wondering at these gifts and sometimes distracted by the oddities of his "catch." Until, one day, he finally realised: this is who I am, this is what I do, this is why I am here. And he no longer questioned the gifts nor his worth to bear them, and the Ancient Ones, high in the sky watching over him said: "He is ours, he will always be ours, he will live long and well and never be troubled again." And do you know what? It was so.

Louisa Flander
Balwyn, Victoria,

Last modified: 2020-07-02 14:27:35+00