I've shared recently a vignette that occurred when a student of Elie Wiesel asked whether they should attend a march in solidarity with Soviet Jewry or a march against Apartheid Africa, both happening at the same time on the campus of Boston University. Wiesel's response was:
"Both, of course! But I'll tell you why I believe you must march for Soviet Jewry. Others will march against Apartheid Africa. But who else will march for Soviet Jewry?!"
This short interchange illustrates a tension we feel as a community, and one that I feel as a rabbi. If someone were to ask me (and not a few people do), "Do you consider yourself primarily an activist on behalf of the Jewish People or for All People?" My answer is: Yes and Yes! But, as Wiesel points out, it's not always possible to, as the phrase puts it, dance at two weddings, or, more appropriately, it's not always possible to integrate our responses to everything that calls.
But tomorrow night I embark for Africa as part of a Rabbinic Delegation through the American Jewish World Service. We will be partnering in Ghana with the organization Challenging Heights, a child-centered organization dedicated to promoting children's rights to education and freedom from forced labor, in order to end child poverty.
This is a trip unlike any I've ever taken, and I truly don't know what to expect. Some have said, upon hearing of the trip, "But there aren't any Jews in Ghana!" To this I reply that we're not going for Jews - We're going as Jews. There is something missing from our life as a Jewish community if we see the only purpose of the Jewish mission as serving Jews. I believe we, as Jews, are called to be illuminators in the world, helping each voice find its own strength, so that one day we can all sing a global song in all its diverse glory. But I make this claim about the world having never truly seen it. This trip is my first attempt to fulfill Elie Wiesel's first answer. Yes and Yes. I am a Jew and a Global Citizen. I am determined to learn what that means.
Chevreh, I travel, as my mother has always loved saying, "with you in my hip pocket." There will be much to share after I return for the Shabbat of August 17th. I look forward to sharing more with you then.