The sad sound of silence

The sad sound of silence

Not a word. Not one word. How troubling. How sad.

When we wrote recently, perhaps not with the most delicately chosen words, about our perception of a great divide in our community between Orthodox and non-Orthodox factions, we received letter after letter, either condemning us or cheering us on.

When we use the name “Obama” and the word “good” in the same article, the letter-writers fall all over themselves either to praise us for our fairness and balance, or to pillory us for being “blindly liberal,” liberal being one of the rankest political perjoratives to have emerged from the Big Lie machines that have become a staple of right and left.

When we wrote about Iran, we were accused by some of not seeing just how dangerous a situation exists and kowtowing to some mythical Obama plan to destroy Israel by allowing Teheran to drop the bomb on Tel Aviv. We also received letters (such as one this week) accusing us of being warmongers seeking to incite this nation into going to war against a paper tiger with a loud voice box.

Appear to be critical of one of Judaism’s streams and people rush to their keyboards. Appear to choose a political position and people rush to their keyboards. Appear to take sides in a march toward war and people rush to their keyboards.

Ask the community’s rabbis, schools, and other institutions to focus on creating a “year of Jewish values” to help restore values to the top of the communal conversation, as we did two weeks ago, and nothing.

Not a word. Not one word. How troubling. How sad.

Actually, that is not quite true. We did receive a response – from Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who offered to help promote such a “Year of Jewish Values.” It was a positive response, and it was predictable. After all, he is the author of such books as “Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life,” and the founder of “This World: The Values Network.”

If we had written the editorial with him in mind, however, we would have been preaching to the converted. Our hope was to convert the preaching – and the teaching – over the next year to a focus on core Jewish values. Our goal was for us as a community to “reboot the system,” as it were, to enable all of us together to concentrate our attention on the meaning and purpose of living a Jewish life, and on how our living such a life can contribute to making this a better world.

To be sure, individual schools and synagogues have their unique mitzvah programs, and we report on them almost every week. Federation sponsors an annual Mitzvah Day. We report on that, too.

These individual efforts are not what we are talking about, however. We seek to promote a sustained, coordinated, communal conversation, from the youngest children to the oldest adults, focusing on a different core Jewish value each month – everyone in three counties discussing the same values-filled text at the same time with an eye towards changing our world so that together we can help change the world at large.

The silence is deafening, but we are not prepared to throw up our hands in despair. Today is the first day of the month of Adar. When this month ends, a new Jewish year begins with the first of Nisan (“this shall be for you the first of months,” the Torah declares). Nisan is the month in which the People Israel was freed from slavery, became a nation, and began its sacred trek to Sinai, there to assume the role of kingdom of priests to the world, a “holy nation” dedicated to making the world a better place. What better time to begin a “Year of Jewish Values”?

Over the next month, we will attempt to craft a meaningful year-long observance – for schools, for shuls, for Shabbat dinner tables, for discussion groups, and even for book clubs. We welcome Shmuley Boteach’s input, but we invite the input of both the North Jersey Board of Rabbis and the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County. We would hope, as well, for thoughts, comments, and ideas from the various day schools in our area, and from individual rabbis, on pulpits and off.

We even invite the ideas of our serial letter-writers and all our readers.

Please, let us start the conversation.