Tuesday, January 15, 2008

I Do Therefore I Am

The following article, written by me, was first published in the Touro College newspaper last year. I was reminded of it after reading the article on Rachal Sharansky that I provided a link for. It was entitled "Activism: Aerobics for the Soul."

Activism. That is what other people do. You know, the other people who do not lead your busy life. It’s not that you wouldn’t like to be an activist, but when could you possibly fit it in? You work, you go to school, you have obligations to family and friends. Besides, activism was around in your parents’ and grandparents’ days: what real relevance does it have today? And what is there possibly left to protest about? What good does protesting do anyway?

I could tell you all the reasons why activism is still necessary and still important, but instead, I would like you to take a trip down memory lane with me, to college campuses of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Those were heady years, filled with idealism, with a sense of purpose, with a heightened sense of being a part of a community.

Imagine that Israel is at war with its Arab neighbors—not so hard to do. Imagine that it is June 1967. Imagine that Jewish voices are raised in protest. Imagine that Jewish bodies pack the UN Plaza for a rally in defense of Israel. Now imagine that even when the main rally is over, large groups of volunteers man tents up the block from the UN to show that the rally is not just a one-time show of support.

Imagine that while you are in the tents you are learning how to roll bandages for shipment to Israel. Imagine that news arrives at midnight that Abba Eban will be coming to address the UN that day. Imagine that a dozen volunteers staff the tents, write up lists, plan strategies, and at 7:00 am the next morning, begin calling every Jewish school, synagogue, and organization in the New York City metropolitan area, along with every news media outlet, all without cell phones. Imagine having to persuade people that they need to come out to show support the day after they have already done so.

Imagine that when Abba Eban arrives at the UN on June 20, 1967, he is greeted by thousands upon thousands of people waving Israeli flags and banners of support and singing “Hatikvah.” Imagine that you have been honored to be flag bearer and to hold aloft the Israeli flag, and that Abba Eban alights from his car to salute his flag before going in to address the delegates. Imagine that you have gone 37 hours without sleep and without too much by the way of food. Imagine that you haven't changed clothes nor had a chance to wash up. And then try to imagine the joy of purpose that was felt by all of us there, the sense of rightness.

“Stand up and be counted” was not just a slogan but a way of life. “There is strength in numbers” was our rallying cry. We were encouraged to become strong individuals We were encouraged to use that individualism in pursuit of a greater societal good: selflessness, not selfishness, was admired. It does not matter what you choose to protest about, what you choose as your method of activism; there is plenty to choose from. What does matter is that you find something to care about with a passion, something that will take you out of the mundane and into the sublime. It is not which purse to buy or which designer outfit to wear that lends beauty and purpose to our lives. Filling our closets and our dresser drawers is not the same thing as fulfilling our lives.

My generation is getting older, not younger. Who will safeguard your rights when the activists are all in Florida? I have a baton that I would like to pass on. You are all capable of taking that baton from me—all you need is the will to do so.

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