By Gerry Skolnik
As an unrepentant (if older and wiser) child of the sixties, I have always considered it one of the sacred tasks of parenting to insure that my children -- all four of them -- know and appreciate the music that shaped my journey into adulthood. When Crosby, Stills and Nash were giving a concert on Manhattan’s Upper West Side last spring, I took my daughter -- then a senior in college -- to the concert with me. She was, I dare say, one of the youngest people there. But she knew the music, and was singing along… success!
One line of lyrics from CS&N’s song “Chicago” always comes to my mind at this time of year. We can change the world, rearrange the world… As clearly as if it were yesterday, I can recall the sense of the times that made those words feel vital and realizable. Our country was in crisis, the times, to paraphrase Bob Dylan, really were a’changin, and we, the college students of America, were helping to move that change forward. We actually believed that we could change the course of American government and policy, and in so doing change the world. In truth, I think we did.
The prophetic tradition in Judaism has always emphasized the idea of Tikkun Olam as an irreducibly important component of Judaism. Repairing the world so that it reflects the sovereignty of God is vital to the Jewish mission. We acknowledge this on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur when the Aleinu prayer, which focuses on the idea of Tikkun Olam and is almost an afterthought in our daily services, becomes a centerpiece of the liturgy. In acknowledging God’s sovereignty so dramatically, we also acknowledge the need to repair God’s world, and heal what is broken therein.
As we approach the High Holidays, I would like to suggest that we would all do well, when thinking about repairing the world, to adopt (consistent with the Sixties theme) the mantra of the environmental movement: think globally, act locally.
It’s all well and good to be concerned with changing the world, but our tradition teaches that you can’t skip steps. We ourselves need fixing, as individuals, families, and communities. Judaism challenges us to repair what is broken within ourselves, and our own “little worlds,” before we become preoccupied with repairing the world as a whole. It’s not unlike the instructions you get when you board an aircraft. In the event that the cabin loses air pressure, be sure to put on your own oxygen mask before you worry about others, even your children. If you can’t breathe, you can’t help someone else. And if you yourself are broken, you can’t be involved in repairing the world.
To all of our friends near and far, may I extend heartfelt wishes for a new year that will be blessed with good health, happiness and peace. The “work” of the High Holidays is difficult, but the rewards are enormous, and long lasting. If you change yourself, you can, indeed, change the world.