| Voice in the Crowd |

Pressing the Button

I had been wondering about the balance between carrying on as normal (for the children) and waking up to a new reality (for yourself)


At what point do we press the panic button?

No one wants to be the “it feels like Germany in 1938” guy, a prophet of doom thundering about the end of American Jewish life when people are trying to enjoy a new type of tequila at the kiddush. But at the same time, it feels tone-deaf to haul an extra-large meat board into your home as you pass through the Free Palestine protesters in the front yard.

I had been wondering about the balance between carrying on as normal (for the children) and waking up to a new reality (for yourself) when I ended up in Toronto, a guest at an especially innovative gathering.

It was, to borrow a popular cliché, “not a fundraiser,” though there was a carving station and mixologist and the room was filled with philanthropists and executive directors.

The goal was not to raise money. For real. Called Impact 2024, it was hosted by a cross-section of Toronto mosdos and organizations, the most generous donors and most dedicated executive directors gathered around a figurative table just to talk.

The relationship between the donor base and those who willingly choose to make out a career out of balancing budgets, soliciting, arranging events, and borrowing to heroically make payroll, and then doing the whole thing again the next month, is not unlike a marriage, two forces pulling the communal wagon together.

Those who carry the back-end of our mosdos (whatever their title might be — just like one day, stewardesses became flight attendants, fundraisers became executive directors, who then became directors of development, and — oh, even gvirim got a new name this week, Rabbi Motti Rapaport of Relief Canada referring to them with the elegant title of “stakeholders”) give their neshamos to the job. The donors give their money, called damim by Chazal, since one who gives money is giving his essence. Both sides are investing their lifeblood.

The goal of this event was to take a relationship that was becoming impersonal — everyone is busy, overwhelmed, and distracted — and make it personal again. I know that you don’t mind giving what you gave last year, but can we do it better? Can we do it smarter? Needs have changed, so shouldn’t those who are providing those needs also consider adapting?

The conversations, conducted through a series of short, honest panel discussions, revolved around these topics, and one comment has been replaying in my mind since that night.

Rabbi Elliot Diamond, CEO of Aish Toronto, said, “Throughout Jewish history, there have been periods in which we had to press reset, to take a step back and not just continue to do things because we always did them that way. Everyone understands that this is one of those reset moments.”

He answered my question. For those who don’t want to press the panic button, there’s the reset button.

We have to let go of the false sense that everything is okay; the images, sounds, and messages coming forth from the campuses, shopping malls, and highways of America and Europe are telling us differently.

Now, where that reset should be and what areas need overhaul are not my department. There are gedolei Yisrael who make those decisions. (Random data compiled by reading the comments on a frum website shows that there are, in fact, enough crises and issues facing us, and a sincere reader shouldn’t have too much trouble finding an appropriate disaster area.)

For a reset to work, there are two steps.

First, people have to talk — with their rabbanim, friends, spouses, neighbors (and with themselves!) — but the honest conversation has to happen. What are we doing, and how can we do it better? What was good enough eight months ago isn’t good enough today, because being engaged in a war means that we are all in.

And second, they have to believe in their own ability to be great, to tap into the koach revealed by the Rebbe who saw inside every Yid: Rabi Shimon bar Yochai.

The one who revealed penimiyus haTorah, the inner dimension of Torah, also revealed the penimiyus of a Yid. He saw the depth, the passion and the yearning.

In Toronto, there was a sense that it’s not enough to have a secretary issue a generous check anymore; as the world rumbles with Chevlei Mashiach, the chance to give tzedakah is a means of survival, and being connected this way is the most important thing in the world. We’re doing it anyhow, so let’s take a moment to appreciate what it is we’re doing and why we do it.

Find the wise, honest people in your life and sit down with them. Is it your Shabbos table that needs an upgrade? How you act in shul? Could you be working harder to help others find shidduchim?

The other side is feeling the virtue of their cause. If we shake ourselves up, maybe that will be viewed favorably enough in Heaven to open the floodgates of rachamim. At the very least, we will have told Him that we get it — we’re not panicking, but we are resetting.

Halachah hi, b’yadua, she’Eisav sonei l’Yaakov. It is a law: it is known that Eisav hates Yaakov, Rabi Shimon bar Yochai taught.

Kol Yisrael bnei melachim heim. Every Jew has the status of a prince, Rabi Shimon bar Yochai taught, an opinion with relevant halachic implications.

The world has come together to bring a ra’ayah to his first teaching.

Now, it’s our turn to come together to bring a ra’ayah to the second one.

Let’s become a little greater, a little more real, a little more alive in our Yiddishkeit, pressing reset on the old way.

Look inside yourself and see what he saw.

Ashreichem Yisrael.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 1012)

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