On the first day of Rosh HaShanah, I spoke of the necessity to recommit ourselves to the mission of making this world a better place. While I applauded, then and now, the individual efforts we make, personally and on the part of the synagogue, short-term gestures are not a substitute for serious consideration and organized action.
Certainly we face a dilemma. People are drawn to Agudas Achim on the basis of our Jewish commitments, not on the basis of our politics. Is it possible to advocate for and work toward social change without being mired in partisan politics? I think the answer is a resounding “yes.” Let me illustrate.
Our neighbors, Old Presbyterian Meeting House and Alfred Street Baptist, have begun a project in Alexandria under the auspices of Habitat for Humanity. They located a vacant lot on Henry Street and have started construction on a home for a low-income family. With their financial investment, their sweat equity and their faith in action, they will make a difference for one family in Alexandria. But by joining together, an overwhelmingly white church and an overwhelmingly black church, in a venture which requires planning, cooperation and a great deal of communication, they will also address a distressing dynamic in the city - the virtual segregation of the two communities.
Moreover, by drawing attention to the need for affordable housing in Alexandria, they may form the nucleus of one or more groups willing to explore more opportunities to make quality housing available to people of limited income.
Democrats, Republicans, Socialists, Libertarians, even anarchists ought to be able to agree on the value of these first steps. And perhaps they will discover consensus on a second or third step in the process.
Similarly, the Alexandria Tutoring Consortium provides volunteer assistance to children in the local public schools whose below-grade reading ability is hampering their learning. (The Consortium is headed by Gary Charles, pastor at Old Presbyterian Meeting House, which seems to be ground zero for social conscience in Alexandria.) There is a significant day-time commitment necessary for tutors, but invariably there is more opportunity for involvement in improving the schools than attending to one student's need. I am certain that similar circumstances present themselves in Fairfax and Arlington. By raising the abilities of a host of students, we raise the bar for all of them. And by sensitizing ourselves to the needs of those who depend on the public schools to receive the education they need to grow, we become aware of just how important it is for students of all abilities that we advocate for funding and resources for schools, teachers and facilities.
These two examples are but first steps – and someone else has already taken them for us. I invite you to contact me if you would like to join me in looking for an entry point for our congregation in the work of improving our world. It is the rent we pay for the place we live.