By Rabbi Shira Koch Epstein, Executive Director
This has been a hard week. While I am a New Yorker, I have lived more than four years of my life in the city of Jerusalem. I spent a good amount of time in the 90’s working as a part of the Israeli/Palestinian peace efforts. What is happening in Jerusalem is personal – two of the victims of this round of violence are in my network of friends and family. My family and friends, Jewish and Arab, are frightened and upset. Most are expressing themselves in heartfelt and also nuanced ways. Yet my Facebook feed, sadly, has also been polluted with dehumanizing, vitriolic posts. A really hard week.
But every morning, I walk through the front door of the 14th Street Y, pocket that little screened portal to a churning world, and enter a totally different reality. Damaris, our morning security guard, welcomes a child by name with a smile. A pair of friends in their late 70s walk into the yoga class where they first met, chatting about their shared weekend plans. A mom stops to pull her baby carrier out from her chest to show me the face of her two-week old child, one of our newest members.
This has been a good week, because I get to come to the Y every day. We are a diverse center and community made up of people of every background and experience. And, in the middle of a huge and anonymous city, we have created a warm community predicated on and dedicated to the idea that we value the humanity of every person.
Valuing the humanity in each person is a core Jewish sensibility.* For those who follow the tradition of reading the Torah every year, we just started it again from the beginning last week. The origin story of the Jewish people teaches that every human being was created in the image of the same Divine being, in Hebrew, “B’tzelem Elohim.” From this story, we derive the sensibility that each person is unique and individual, and yet each of us is coming from and connected to the same source. This tradition holds us responsible for finding the divine spark in every other person. If we see that every person is fully unique, but also inherently exactly like us at their core, what follows is a human responsibility for creating justice and preserving dignity—not only for our individual selves, but for every person.
*The Lippman Kanfer Institute has published a set of Jewish Sensibilities here, based on an earlier article by Dr. Vanessa Ochs. Take a look!