After nearly five years in this role, I feel privileged to be the Director of the Philadelphia Jewish Labor Committee. To be frank, when I started, I wasn’t as aware as I am today about the difficulties facing so many working people in our city. I understand how now, as Jewish people have struggled and won great success and comfort in the United States, many of us have forgotten those struggles. Perhaps our grandparent’s efforts afforded us this comfort. There are two problems, and I don’t know which is more pressing. Time and again when our community has lulled itself into a sense of comfort, we’ve been shocked by incidents of anti semitism that range from the painting of a swastika on a synagogue or a home or business, to attacks on Jewish individuals, to, at the extreme, the atrocities of the holocaust. And though we say never forget, we seem to strive for the comfort that can only come with forgetting what happened in the past. If not forgetting is to be something more than words, I think it is our responsibility as a community to help those who have not yet had the good fortune that our community has had. And second, it feels wrong to me when I see my community enjoying material excess, and only wanting more when so many struggle to keep food on their tables and their electricity on. Have we forgotten that we’re talking about people, not statistics?
“When I confront a human being as my Thou and speak the basic word I-Thou to him, then he is no thing among things nor does he consist of things. He is no longer He or She, a dot in the world grid of space and time, nor a condition to be experienced and described, a loose bundle of named qualities. Neighborless and seamless, he is Thou and fills the firmament. Not as if there were nothing but he; but everything else lives in his light.”
― Martin Buber