Tza’aka, 2015, the World Zionist Congress, and Goodbye to Cheryl…

I have been thinking, recently, about tza’aka – crying out. It is the motif in the Torah for the moment when a person or a people says: enough is enough. After twenty quiescent generations of slavery, it is the tza’aka of the children of Israel which signals that something is about to change – that freedom is about to be within our grasp.

And this is not just in the Torah. It was a kind of tza’aka that brought the Civil Rights movement in this country. It was a tza’aka that brought down the Berlin Wall. The Climate Change march in New York just before Rosh Hashanah was a tza’aka, and it helped to nudge the US and other governments in the direction of a substantive climate treaty. And what happened in Paris and in France on Sunday, provoked and inspired by tragedy, was a very glorious moment of tza’aka.

Less than four weeks ago I was writing about fissures in our community, partly provoked by having just been in Paris. Here’s what I wrote then. I ended, inter alia, with “May we never need to defend ourselves – but may we have the courage and the confidence to do so, when we need to. And may we stand up both for ourselves and for others…”

The unimaginably large crowds who were out on Sunday were precisely saying: we do now need to defend liberal society, we do have the courage and confidence to do so, and we do indeed stand up both for ourselves and for others. It is very clear – for instance – that, despite the appalling problem of extremist Islam, moderate and liberal Muslims are now finding their voices and are speaking up. That process will continue to gather force as this century unfolds.

The work of Hazon lies poised between a positive vision for the world, and a sense of the things that are wrong that we need to fix. In the early period of Hazon I felt that the Jewish community was too negative; that we were too obsessed by anti-semitism, by attacks on Israel, by “Jewish continuity.” My question was: not what are we against, but what are we for? Not, where have we come from? But where are we going? And, most particularly, what is our vision? We wanted to inspire positive change from a place of energy and hope, not doom and gloom.

Then in the last few years I became somewhat more gloomy. From the Pew study on one side to climate change on the other, ungreat things have been happening, and our communal response – and sometimes our human response – has felt insufficient. This indeed is the holy dissatisfaction which fuels Hazon’s work and our growth – this deep belief in Jewish tradition, in its wisdom and relevance, allied to a sense that we can and should be making a difference in the world; and that doing so will and should reinvigorate Jewish life itself.

And something about the scale and tenor of Sunday has, paradoxically, really inspired me. Awful things will, presumably, continue to happen. But when people come out into the streets on that scale – in opposition to Islamist extremism, and in defense of liberal society – it cannot but inspire all of us.

One last thought. Last Friday night – the Friday night in which services, tragically, were not held in the Grand Synagogue in Paris – for the first time since the Second World War – our dinner guests (who had been invited before any of the events in Paris), happened to be Catholic, Muslim and Jewish (multiple flavors). Our great-grandparents came from probably a dozen different countries – I think it perfectly possible that our great-grandparents, collectively, might not easily have celebrated Friday night dinner together. But in New York, in 2015, it simply felt like an easy and very appropriate way to end an intense week.

Finally, a few different and brief announcements:

We have a remarkable number of events coming up in the next few months. The full calendar is here. If you sign up for any multi-day event (including our Bike Rides) before January 31st, and type in “JAN15,” there is a $75 discount.

All of our recent Adamah Fellowships have sold out, and we have turned people away. If you’re interested in participating in Adamah in 2015, information is here and you should be in touch sooner rather than later.  If you’re interested in being a Teva Educator at some point, fill out this form.

Speaking of 2015: this week saw the start of the elections for the 37th World Zionist Congress. I know – Herzl, Basel – is that stuff still going on?! It turns out that it is. And, through a long convoluted process, the decisions of the World Zionist Congress have a real impact, both in Israel and on the Jewish people. You can click here to see the list of slates, and here to see the platform of Green Israel, the slate put together by David Krantz and including, variously, Hazon staff David Weisberg (our CEO), Hody Nemes, our board member Rabbi Marc Soloway and a slew of friends and former colleagues. It will cost you $10 to vote, and it’s well worth it.

I end with special thanks to Cheryl Cook, Hazon’s longstanding COO, who leaves this week to become the new Executive Director of Avodah.  Our first database record for Cheryl is dated June 5th 2002, when she registered for our second New York Ride. Our budget that year was $135,000; we had exactly two staff and one program. She went on to chair the New York Ride; to become a Hazon board member; and then she joined as COO on January 23rd 2006 – our 6th employee. By the time she leaves she will have been COO for exactly nine years; she’s done 17 Hazon Rides (!); she’s probably participated in more than 400 weekly staff meetings. We have grown more than tenfold. She has worked with grace, good humor, and immense kindness and thoughtfulness. We’re sad to see her go, and we wish her bon voyage and b’hatzlacha at Avodah.