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29http://www.beth-israel.org/blog/2010/12/Rabbi-Lyon%27s-Blog---12_31_2010
Rabbi Lyon's Blog - 12_31_2010
12/29/2010 11:36 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
December 31, 2010

 

                The end of 2010 is here. Amen. Notwithstanding weddings, baby namings, b’nai mitzvah, and other happy occasions, we can agree that this has been one of the more challenging years financially. If you have been personally spared economic angst, you’re surely aware that most of the nation, if not the world, is struggling. Columnists and editorialists share their perspectives. Some are liberal and others conservative in their views. I have no choice but to be Jewish in mine.

                What does a year of economic angst mean for us? I often return to a Yiddish proverb that teaches us, “You can’t put thank you in your pocket.” Your pocket is your “pushke,” your personal holdings. Working for gratitude might come at a time in your life when volunteering is a priority. Working for “bubkes” might be necessary to make ends meet. But, everybody should strive to work for a decent living that provides the family what they want and need. In the old country before our ancestors came to America, a Talmud scholar was a top job. In America, top jobs went to doctors, lawyers and accountants. Why? It represented the pinnacle of professional success and that’s what Jewish parents wanted their children to have – the best. What became of Talmud scholars? Let’s move on.

                Economic aspirations included a can-do spirit that motivated our ancestors to work hard and to sacrifice selflessly. There were years that were better than others, but they rarely lost sight of their goals. They were consistently frugal, cautious, and wary. Some still struggled, but many succeeded and left large inheritances and legacies for their descendants. But, let’s not miss the point of their success. They didn’t replace hard work with wealth, and they didn’t serve themselves at the expense of the community. Indeed, their Jewish values about wealth and achievement drove them to live mindfully. As a result, they joined with others and built the Jewish institutions we depend on, today. They were capitalists, but they were also quasi-socialists in their efforts to bring everyone up to a place where human dignity was served with “menschlekheit.”

                Some of us who grew up in America, inculcated with messages of Horatio Alger stories and visions of corporate ladders, are currently disappointed that it isn’t working. So we’re disoriented. We don’t know how to navigate the current economic environment. Young adults are becoming billionaires before they earn their first corner office; and, a day at the office and time at the water cooler has become 24 hours on the internet and catching up on Facebook. What happened? It’s a new age and it’s just coming into focus. We’re living in transitional times no different than our ancestors did when they traded candles for electric bulbs, horses for automobiles, and trains for airplanes. They didn’t look back and neither can we. But, is there anything we can salvage from the past?

                Like our ancestors, we can bring with us tried and true values that can bring us success and contentment on our terms. Judaism implores us to choose life in the face of adversity. It urges us to ask for help from the very institutions that were founded for our community: the synagogue, Jewish Family Service, Seven Acres, Jewish Community Center, and Houston Jewish Federation. In difficult times they’re here for us, and in good times, we’re their benefactors. The cycle continues. We are never alone and never without opportunities. Perseverance, resourcefulness, and vision are as much a part of Jewish values as tzedakah, mitzvah and shalom. Today is only one day. Tomorrow is part of a long future, God willing, that begins with the first day of 2011, and unfolds into whatever we want to make of it. That’s still part of the American dream. That’s still part of the Jewish dream.

                As the ball drops on New Year’s Eve and we welcome 2011, let’s not only pray for economic security, let’s do something about it. Reach out. Help yourself and others. Give generously. Be grateful.

                From my family to yours, happy 2011, and Shabbat Shalom.

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