Rafi Glazer, Director of Programs
Dani Greenwald, Program Associate
Friday, July 29, 2016
“Don’t Boo. Vote” These words were spoken on Wednesday night by President Obama in his speech to the DNC. Regardless of how you feel about the President’s politics, or the 2016 campaign, this simple idea is an important one. We live in a society where standing up and being part of the community is not just a privilege, but a requirement. As we get closer to what looks like the most contentious election in recent history, standing up to express what you believe in is an important aspect of who we are as individuals, as United States citizens, and as Jews. And we hear that lesson reverberate in this week’s Torah portion.
Pinchas, this week’s Torah portion, focuses on the idea of interwoven personal and group identities, and the need to stand up and make your voice heard. The way that occurs with the Israelites in the desert is through a census. By having each individual give half a shekel, the 12 tribes had a pretty effective system of knowing how many individuals their nation had grown into over 40 years in the desert. As a symbolic gesture, it was an easy way for each person to stand up and declare themselves. When the Israelites performed the census, they were not just counting the whole, but they also learned who each individual was and the challenges they were dealing with. There is a reason that after the census is taken the land of Canaan is apportioned to each tribe. Only after knowing the requirements of each tribe, can they be given appropriate resources to thrive.
Counting each individual showed that each individual mattered, and together, they formed the whole community. Not only was every single person recognized, but each person’s needs were recognized, as well. When AJSS groups enter communities, we aim to bring voices to people who are unheard, just as the Israelites did during their census. We bring with us the attitude that every person matters, and every person deserve equal rights and equal opportunities. We listen to the stories of people who have experienced great struggles in their lives, and we do what we can to meet their personal needs and the needs of the community as a whole. We acknowledge them.
On AJSS programs, our participants stand up to be counted, as well. Our teens make their voices heard when they immerse themselves into a new community, learn about the societal issues, and develop the passion for social change. AJSS teens discover that they can make a difference in someone else’s life, and they do it! Every AJSS teen makes a difference, and together, they change communities. When our teens stand up for the issues that they care about, they declare that they want to be part of a society that helps people in need. They are building a society where every individual matters and every voice is heard, including their own. Shabbat Shalom.