Message to our Community - September 7, 2018
Over the past months in anticipation of my role as CEO/ President of Jewish Family Service, I have had countless conversations about tikkun olam (Hebrew: translated as “world repair”). One Rabbi reminded me of the allegoric story from the Kabbalah (ancient spiritual wisdom). The story tells that before creation all that existed was God’s presence. In order to make room for creation, however, space was needed for the new and so the divine presence contracted to form a void unto which divine light could shine.
This light shone and entered evenly into vessels, some of which ultimately shattered, leaving light fallen and scattered about. Most of the light returned to its divine source while some fragments attached to the broken vessel shards. These shards are analogous to what is not good in the world today and the light attached is said to be what gives these things power.
This metaphoric story is interpreted differently by many people. Broadly speaking, the concept of tikkun olam can translate to a call to action. The phrase has come to be connected to our own responsibility as humans to fix what is wrong in this world. There is a joke about how mainstream the term tikkun olam has become in our society: a young American woman traveling in Israel asks her Israeli guide “How do you say tikkun olam in Hebrew?”
It is not lost on me that as I am finishing my first week at Jewish Family Service the Jewish New Year of Rosh Hashannah begins on Sunday evening. When I was a little girl, my grandfather used to remind me that though this holiday was a “happy one” (after all we got to eat apples and honey), that this was the start of an important time of reflection and paying attention. One year, as I sat beside him in synagogue, he asked me to think about something I was grateful for, and then to think of something “needing work” or that was requiring of my attention. He challenged me, in this question alone, to act on the “need” that called to me.
So, in the spirit of the tradition my grandfather started years ago, this year on Rosh Hashannah: I am grateful for the warm and incredible welcome I have been greeted with at JFS, for the dedicated and talented staff and devoted board of directors all who work tirelessly to make this organization run efficiently and effectively, for my extraordinary predecessor Janet Sunkin who took Jewish Family Service and loved it, nurtured it, dreamed, developed and created and who leaves a legacy that leaves me awed and speechless, and for this community in which I have grown up and to which I will now finally have the opportunity to give back.
As for my open eyes: This Rosh Hashannah, I will focus on causes that JFS is already addressing such as food injustice, suburban poverty, aging and mental health (among many others) and I will pay attention to new areas which could use our attention. However, my eyes are only my eyes and so I urge you to take time over this holiday to think about needs in our community garnering your attention. I hope you will take time for gratitude and for paying attention. And, then I hope you will open a dialogue with me or with someone at Jewish Family Service so that we, as an organization, may become more aware and together, we can brainstorm ways in which this need in our community can begin to or continue to be addressed.
Wishing you and yours a happy and healthy new year. May you end this year and begin this next one with gratitude and with a set of eyes looking for the shattered light that together we can work to make shine.
Jennie I. Schaff, Ph.D.
Jewish Family Service of Rochester, Inc.