Unfortunately, we live in a time when there is such division that people are shunned solely because of their opposing opinion. I am aware of one person who refuses to even acknowledge my presence because he disagrees with my political views. I doubt he is the only one. For those regular readers of the Queens Jewish Link, they know that Moshe Hill and I almost never agree. It is so infrequent, that when we do agree, I mention it in my column. I had never met him until the QJL’s 10th anniversary event last week. I would have not recognized him, since unlike his picture, he does not have a beard. We had a very cordial conversation. We both agreed that in the group picture, we should stand next to each other. We wanted to send the message that individuals can disagree and be able to interact respectfully with each other.
It wasn’t too long ago that this is how Congress ran. There was policy and political disagreement between Republicans and Democrats. However, generally the members would have good personal relationships with members of the other party. Now, the opposing party is considered the enemy. Many members have personal animus toward fellow members of Congress. It is destructive and has made the ability to compromise or otherwise work together more difficult. How can you come to an agreement if congressional members will not talk to one another? I believe that this problem has been caused by the election of extremists in both parties whose venomous rhetoric and conduct has helped foster this toxic atmosphere. This is another issue where the traditional Democrats and Republicans need to step up and lead by example.
To my main topic. Why was there a requirement for every individual, with some exceptions, to pay a half-shekel for the upkeep of the Bais Hamikdash? It would have been a lot easier and more efficient to ask a couple of wealthy individuals to foot the bill. I’m sure that they would have had no trouble getting the money. I believe the reason was to get everyone involved. In order to be members of the community and to have a connection with the Temple, it was important for them to have a share in its upkeep. If you are involved even in a small way, you feel that you are part of the community.
We do not currently have a Temple, but we have synagogues, which are considered like mini-Temples, and many Jewish communities. When I was growing up in Bayside, we had a teen minyan named Etz Chaim. From an efficiency perspective, there were various things that should have been done differently. However, it was more important that the members be involved. For example, I still remember being part of a group that built the mechitzas for the minyan. One of the members was a carpenter. He could have had his workers do it. Likewise, when it came to reading the Torah, most of us could not read the entire parshah. So, we would split it up. These are just two examples. Almost everyone was involved in the minyan. Although it occurred many years ago, it has paid dividends to this day. I believe this is why so many members of Etz Chaim have been involved in leadership positions in their shuls and communal organizations, or otherwise have given much time to support them.
As I mentioned in a previous column, I am returning to a position I had many years ago as gabbai of the Congregation Ahavas Yisroel hashkamah minyan. My goal is to follow the same course as when I was growing up: getting everyone involved. There are various options, such as leading part of the services or giving the d’var Torah or reading the Torah or Haftarah. Getting involved is especially important when you are young. This is the time where it will have a lifetime effect. It will lead to more people being involved in communal affairs. It will help increase achdus (unity) in the community. It may lower the rate of disaffected youth. If you are asked to be part of the process, there is a better chance that you will not feel isolated and leave the community.
I know that it’s easier to get people involved in a smaller setting. But maybe some of the ideas can work even in a bigger shul. For example, many boys at their Bar Mitzvah read the entire parshah. They should be encouraged to read the Torah at least once a year on their Bar Mitzvah parshah. Maybe make one Shabbos a youth Shabbos, where teenage boys run the minyan.
Regarding communal involvement - in most, if not all, girls’ schools, they are involved in chesed for the community. Maybe boys’ schools should also have the boys get involved in activities helping the community.
The bottom line is that we need to get more people involved, whether it’s at the synagogue or otherwise in the community. The focus should be on the Jewish youth. It should not be left to the few, no matter how great a job they do. We should learn from the requirement of the machazis hashekel.