I recently attended the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando’s women’s fundraising event – CHOICES – at the behest of the honoree, Ina Porth. It was a well-run program, and Ina is as deserving of the special attention as anyone could be. But that’s not what I’m writing about. While there were a number of excellent examples of positive programs run by the local Federation (teen trips to Israel, RAISE – Recognizing Abilities and Inclusion of Special Employees), I was moved most by the call to action speech given by Olga Yorish, the executive director of the local Fed.
I told her how impressed I was, but that’s not enough. I need to tell you. And this isn’t a plea to contribute to the annual campaign, or a pitch to keep Olga around for a good long while (though both are fine ideas). This is a call to personal action, for all of us to do what Olga has consistently done and take stock of our lives and make choices that matter.
Olga’s litany of choices is impressive. The choice to remain a committed Jew while living in the Soviet Union. The choice to be a refusenik and risk everything – home, jobs, family, stability, social status. The choice to remain dedicated to one’s beliefs in the face of all these hardships for more than a decade. The choice to immigrate to the United States. The choice to make Jewish communal work your life.
It is easy in life to drift along, to follow a path that lies before you, to let circumstance make choices for you. It is infinitely harder to build the path. While the saying, “When one door closes, another opens,” may be true, the real point here is, what is opening the door? Are you, or is it chance, the wind, someone else? When we make a choice, whether it’s to give a donation or our time to a worthy cause, to take a job or remain with our employer, to move or stay put, to marry or break up, to say yes or no, we are letting the world know who we are and where we stand. It sounds obvious, but the danger is in the corollary. It is all those times when we don’t make a conscious choice, but rather allow the world’s uncertain, often amoral current to pull us along, that can be disastrous for our souls.
Think of all the times people have turned away. When Poles and Germans and Austrians ignored (or pretended to ignore) the smoke of human ash in the skies of World War II. When atrocities occurred in Cambodia and Somalia and Mexico and Armenia. When fundamentalist Islam threatens the fabric of civilization and moderate Muslims remain silent. When children are malnourished, undereducated, impoverished in our own backyards. It may be easy to sit on the sidelines and do nothing, but it leaves a stain. It tarnishes our core. It seeds a flaw that ultimately cracks, leaving us bewildered by what we have become through inaction. It’s not about saying yes or no when asked to give or serve on a board. It’s about saying nothing at all.
You see, it’s both the choices and the non-choices we make that define who we are. Both have repercussions. Both result in something, whether it’s through the impact of our efforts or the slow decay caused by doing nothing. It’s the difference in picking up trash along the beach and listening to reports of sea life choking on massive plastic nets that we may or may not have contributed to. We may never be aware of what we caused, but the loss exists nonetheless, and we are at least partially to blame.
So this is my thought for the day. Remember that a choice is more than following a path. It’s taking a shovel to the world. And the lack of a choice? It may get you somewhere eventually, but it’s just as likely to be a rickshaw ride to a dismaying destination, to a time and a place and a life and a world you want to blame others for, but that is at least partially, ultimately, your inadvertent creation.
And that’s the good word.
Send your thoughts, comments, and critiques to the Heritage or email email@example.com.