Torah from around the world #84
Think Globally, Act Locally, Do it Together / reflections for Yom Kippur 5772
by Rabbi Mark Goldsmith, Alyth, North Western Reform Synagogue, London; Chair of The Assembly of Reform Rabbis UK
It is not certain who first used the phrase “think globally, act locally”. It became widely used from the 1970’s onwards as the environmentalist movement held the selfishness of untrammelled local exploitation of resources up to moral question. Every month a group of adults in our community here in London puts global thinking and local action into action. This group is known as the Alyth Cycling Community and what they do is simple: they meet at the synagogue and go for a three hour bike ride together. It’s local because it is just a group of fellow members of the synagogue spending time together, getting to know each other, getting to know London and the countryside on the borders of the city. It’s global because it is utterly respectful of the natural environment, reduces congestion, and is an activity that could take place anywhere in the world in a spirit of friendship. I am sure that many other synagogues within the World Union family have cycle clubs and it would be great to hear from you if you do.
This is Jewish cycling, with several stops for food on the way, with every rider helped and supported to make it to the end of the ride, all at the pace of the slowest rider. Two weeks ago the Alyth Cycling Community completed our annual 80km/50 mile all day ride. The joy in having completed it together made all of the individual trials and tribulations on the way worthwhile.
Yom Kippur asks us every year to think globally. We are responsible not just for ourselves but for the concentric circles leading out from us to our families, to our congregation, to our people – Israel, and then to the world. As Rabbi Dr Leo Baeck, the first President of our synagogue, said in 1946 at the first post war conference of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, we are “Jews also for the sake of humanity; we should be there quite especially in this world after the war: we have our questions to raise and have to give our answer.” For the past two thousand years there has been no High Priest, no Cohen Hagadol, to make confessions for himself, his family and colleagues, and for all Israel. Instead every one of us stands in his place and shares his or her responsibility. That responsibility is global, for the people who grow our food and make our clothes, for the quality of the air that is breathed half a world away, for the poverty that blights the lives of billions.
Yom Kippur is, at its heart, addressed to each of us as individuals as we give account for the past year and pledge ourselves to do better in the year ahead. Yet its key prayers are all in the first person plural – the sin that we have committed against You, ashamnu, bagadnu, Avinu Malkenu – have pity on us and answer us. It is the cry and confession of the whole of Jewish humanity over the globe of regret for the past and resolve for the future.
In the end though, it is each of us as individuals who can actually decide to act. Each one of us can shift what we do to improve the world around us. Each of us can choose to buy with consideration for the people who produced what we buy, each of us can choose to use fewer of the earth’s expendable resources at home and at work, each of us can contribute something of what we have to the relief of poverty. That’s local.
But because we live in a community we can vastly increase the scale and impact of what we do. We can encourage each other, making awareness of global issues and our local responses to them part of our synagogue life. We can teach our children that we are Jews not only for ourselves but “also for the sake of humanity”. Through our World Union and the Religious Action Centres that exist in the USA (RAC), Israel (IRAC) and now South Africa (SACRED) as well, and may come into existence here in the UK this coming year, we can work together on local issues with a global impact to let “justice flow like water and righteousness become an ever flowing stream” (Amos 5:6). From each individual Progressive Jew, moved to participate in the repair of the world, to each of our congregations, to our national social justice programmes, to the oft dreamed of possible Reform social justice of being aware and effective to contribute to worldwide issues – this year that stream should become ever stronger.
The last words of the Mishnah Yoma, the Mishnah tractate which describes the ritual and the theology of Yom Kippur, are from Rabbi Akiva. He pictures God as sprinkling waters of hope and purification upon us throughout Yom Kippur until we leave the day cleansed. The words for purification through water mikveh, and hope tikvah are beautifully similar. This year let us each gather these droplets and direct them to flow into the stream that will make the world that bit better next year.
Rabbi Mark Goldsmith can be contacted at email@example.com