David Bryfman’s ELI talk and his resulting eJewish Philanthropy piece has received a lot of attention over the past several days. At the crux of the discussion is a lesson on values: what do we value as a Jewish community, what do we want our children to value, and how can we transmit those values in a way that has both resonance and meaning? By giving these experiences away for free, do we devalue them to a younger generation of Jews? When we take our young adults on a ten day trip to Israel, or invite them to Shabbat dinner, but ask for nothing in exchange, do we show that these are experiences are to be held cheaply and taken for granted? That they are unworthy of a deeper, life-long commitment? Bryfman asks us, “[w]hat in the Jewish world do you value enough to pay for?”
This is what I value:
I value Jewish peoplehood. I value the sense of place and purpose that being a part of the Jewish people gives me; the knowledge that, as a Jew, I am never alone, that I share a particular worldview, history, faith, and identity with a singular population.
I value Jewish practice, ritual, and belief. I value the rhythm it gives my days, weeks, and years. I value the blessing of Shabbat, of the “island in time” that forces me to reflect honestly, think deeply, and truly connect with the world rushing past me six days a week. I value the meaning that kashrut brings to our basic human needs, that it elevates the mundane to the divine. I value the meaning that comes from actively joining my synagogue community to pray, study, and learn.
I value Israel. I value its place in our Jewish past, present, and future. I value its role as a modern state, as an example of what the triumph of humanity can achieve when faced with utter darkness. I value Israel’s role in the development of who we are as a people, of the force for good it is in the larger world, of the example it sets as a democratic nation actively engaged in a continuous and evolving dialogue with its citizens. I value the land, the vast and arid beauty of the Negev, the soft greens of the Jezreel Valley, the light of the sun on the Jerusalem hills.
These are values that I’ve paid for, in time, effort, and yes, in money. I will continue to pay for them, both for myself and my family. Why? Because being part of the Jewish community is worthwhile. Because it gives meaning to how I live my life, how I connect with others, and how I understand myself. Because I want my future children to know that they are individuals with a story, that they are part of something important, that they’re never really alone.
And so, I’ll quote David Bryfman again and ask you, “[w]hat in the Jewish world do you value enough to pay for?”