Unity is the Key
As I write, the sad news of the passing of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks has been announced. The former Chief Rabbi of the British United Hebrew Congregation made a huge philosophical contribution to the wider society, and I would like to begin with the following prophetic quote from his book The Dignity of Difference (2002).
"Change has become part of the texture of life itself, and there are few things harder to bear than constant flux and uncertainty."
In my previous Chairman's Messages for ESRA Magazine, I have often written about change and adaptability in this unprecedented period of "constant flux and uncertainty". But surely the key to ensuring ESRA's future success lies in remaining focused and maintaining a unity of purpose.
The recent US elections is among the many examples of polarization all too familiar in our modern world. Candidates in both parties engaged in mudslinging against their rival, accusing them of this, that or the other. Britain grapples with Brexit, South Africa suffers following the end of the Zuma regime. So many things are pushing people apart, deep into their respective camps.
Evidence is everywhere of disharmony, unrest and disenchantment, combined with frustration at the apparent inability and ineffectiveness of dealing with COVID.
The many divisions in our own country are perhaps closest to our hearts. But the story of Hanukah and the Maccabees shows us that disunity leads to defeat, whereas unity leads to redemption. To quote again from Jonathan Sacks, in a talk from 2013:
"Never believe that a handful of dedicated people can't change the world. Inspired by faith, they can. The Maccabees did then. So can we today."
Like the Maccabees, so too in ESRA we have dedicated people who are fighting to continue the work we began over 40 years ago. Fortunately, we have more than "a handful" of dedicated volunteers whose combined time, energy and spirit of unity is enabling ESRA to move forward with faith and courage in directions not previously envisaged.
In record time, volunteers in the English Tutoring Program (ETP) came together to develop new programs where none had existed before. Children all over Israel are now regularly meeting with ESRA volunteers for online tutoring. What was once a local involvement with neighborhood schools has now become a national program without geographical barriers. Recent new developments have seen ETP introduced into schools in Jerusalem, while our volunteer tutors now include those working from abroad.
Although normal activities in ESRA's Education and Welfare Projects have been devastated by COVID, volunteers have worked together with determination, enabling us to maintain and even expand our projects' effectiveness in certain areas. The excellent news is that in January, we plan to open up a brand new Students Build a Community (SBC) project in South Tel Aviv.
ESRA branches are adapting in a way many would never have thought possible. The face-to-face community spirit has temporarily been replaced by committee meetings and events being held on Zoom. Here again determination and dedication have allowed ESRA's branches to flourish in spite of enforced change.
ESRA's membership and supporters have rallied to the call for help in raising funds. As a result, our Welfare Committee continues to give out tens of thousands of shekels to large numbers of families in need, many of whom unexpectedly found themselves in difficulties as a result of Coronavirus.
During pre-pandemic times, this is the time of the year when everyone in ESRA would be heavily occupied with selling tickets for our Annual Gala Fundraising Concert. Our traditional major fundraising event of the year was not only an extremely enjoyable entertainment and social evening, but also represented a major contribution to the financing of our projects and our ability to help those in need.
For obvious reasons, this year it will not be taking place, but the contribution it made to our funds cannot be ignored. In its place our Fundraising Committee will be appealing to you to continue your important and generous donations, enabling ESRA to continue its work with the same effective dedication.
By pulling together as a focused and unified force, ESRA's wonderful volunteers, our membership, our donors, and our supporters from all over the world can and do make significant changes. To repeat the sentiments of the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, what the Maccabees did then, so we can do today, in our own small way.
On a lighter note, I read somewhere that Israelis consume 24 million sufganiyot during the Hanukah period. That was calculated to total about 10.8 billion calories. So, stay safe, enjoy your holiday, and then maybe consider joining your local gym.