Do you know what is even harder than suffering? Watching other people suffer. No one with a sense of decency and compassion can stomach the sight of a loved one, an acquaintance or even a stranger who is hurting. It is painful to witness and as with most pain in life our initial response is to avoid the suffering, to look away or even to turn our backs. This reactive feeling of “flight” is not wrong; feelings are never wrong. But to act upon those feelings, to turn our backs, to walk away and abandon another in their time of need is wrong and something we are commanded to fight against.
Recently, this Jewish community received some difficult news – our JCC is in crisis. We have known the economic and demographic challenges it has faced were severe but no one really knew until recently just how bad it was. It is bad. Perhaps it is dire, but we can not let the JCC go down without a fight. We must find a way to re-invent it so that it is vibrant and sustainable once and for all.
But more importantly we must not let the JCC or its employees feel as if they are alone, even for a second. We must not continue to turn our backs – and there has been much of this to say the least. Too many “I told you sos,” too much finger pointing, too many good people and fine institutions have turned their back on our sister organization and fellow Jews and non-Jews during their time of need. Now is the time to turn around and face the J, to reach out and to say to everyone in its midst – “eakha ana.”
Eakha ana is the Aramaic phrase spoken amidst a very gloomy time in the Talmud. The text is recounting many of the great leaders of the past who have come and gone as the current generation is deeply missing their leadership during their particular time of need. With the passing of each of these great rabbis something seemingly irreplaceable had been lost.
With Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai’s, death true wisdom was lost; with Rabbi Joshua’s death, sagely guidance was diminished and so forth…. With Rabbi Yehuda’s death, died true humility …..
But then a more obscure, far less known rabbi named Rabbi Joseph’s voice is included. In response to Rabbi Yehuda’s death, Rabbi Joseph who is alive and on the job steps in, steps up and simply says, “eakha ana – I am here!” It as if Rabbi Joseph is saying, I know these great rabbis are gone. I know we are lost and afraid and think that there is no one to guide us and no way to find our way out. But, don’t be so quick to judge, don’t give up hope so easily, after all – I am here. We are here and together and together we can find our way out.
Whether or not the JCC makes it, whether or not any of our institutions make it, is far less significant than our individual and collective responses, as a community, as Jews and as human beings during times of need. Do we allow our brothers and sisters to struggle alone, in the dark? Do we turn our backs on them during their time of need? Or, do we step up as institutions and individuals and respond by saying “eakha ana” – we are here to help, to partner, to collaborate or. at the very least, just to be present to you during your time of need.
We may not be in positions of leadership or have vast sums of money, know how or wisdom to lend to the JCC. That, however, is not all that they need. What they need is for each and every one of us to reach out and say “eakha ana – I am here.” Say eakha ana to the receptionists at the JCC. Say eakha ana to the administrators and teachers and lay leaders and everyone working so nobly and tirelessly whoever they might be. They are exhausted, they are uncertain of their future and most of all they undoubtedly are feeling alone. Maybe we can’t give millions of dollars, maybe we can’t deliver them five hundred new members, maybe we have nothing to offer but two simple words of comfort – “eakha ana” – I am here. But, I assure you, those words of comfort will be well received and are important for them, for you and for this community.
In the end, if we have failed to say “eakha ana” as synagogues or institutions, as individuals and as fellow Jews then we have failed, regardless of whatever becomes of the JCC. Where we will be five weeks from now or five years from now no one can say for sure. But if we respond to one another during our times of darkness with the words “eakha ana” you can be assured that we will eventually find our way through to the light of a new dawn and a new day.
Am Echad; Lev Echad – One People; One Heart
Shalom – Peace