As many of you know, I spent these last few days at the national clergy gathering of PICO, People Improving Communities through Organizing. This group is the national organization of the local affiliate CAFé, Communities in action and faith which seeks to bring out the power of people throughout the area to make our county and our country a true land of opportunity for everyone.
The need for power through organizing is crucial, because it gives a voice to people who may have no one to speak for them otherwise. It also can help us realize that there may be some aspect of our lives that we dismiss or shrug off where we are actually facing challenges due to the same forces that are sending middle class Americans into poverty and turning millionaires into billionaires. These forces may weigh on certain ethnic or cultural groups, but the forces themselves transcend those differences.
I believe that making a difference in creating opportunity comes down to kindness. It is kindness that could prevent an employer from letting go a long-time and trusted worker due to a lower bottom-line. It is kindness that allowed so many of our ancestors to come to this country – and yes, they probably faced comments like, “those people are taking away jobs from us.” We need a new kindness and compassion that will allow immigrants a chance to be productive participants in the continuing American experiment.
When budget cuts hit our schools, it is kindness and concern for the welfare of our children that can lead a school board or the Congressional supercommittee to develop a plan that will serve all students so that every boy and girl can have the best chance possible to learn what he or she needs in order to achieve personal dreams and goals. Finally, on any issue, it is kindness that turns any “us and them” approach into a “we” that recognizes the dignity that every person deserves.
In the Torah reading for this week, Abraham's servant, called Eliezer by the rabbis, was looking for kindness during his journey as he went to find a wife for Isaac. Eliezer hoped that, as he arrived at his destination, one of the women there would think to give him and his camels water to quench their thirst without his even asking. Of course, Eliezer would appear as a stranger, a wayward traveler, with his 10 camels in tow. He knew that the woman who would willingly offer water and assistance at the well to the human stranger AND his animals would be the right partner for Isaac, someone who could enter Sarah’s tent to become the new matriarch of one very special family. And so Rebekah did.
As I watched many facts and figures go by during the presentations at the PICO clergy conference, I wondered at what point we lost our ability in this nation to be kind. Of course, on some levels, we still show that compassion. I was present this morning at Casa de Peregrinos, our local food bank, as we made our donation for Thanksgiving – turkeys and a wide range of other foods fit for a holiday dinner. We have members who serve at the El Cadito soup kitchen. We have people giving in so many ways. But what we need more of in society are Rebekahs – people who see a need and, without being asked, fill the water jar – meet the need through their own initiative. And even if we only have our energy and commitment to give to furthering the cause of making the United States a land of opportunity for everyone, that still makes us like Rebekah. This can happen as, in the coming months, we at Temple Beth-El share our own stories about opportunity with each other, tales of times when we encountered a Rebekah who gave us what we needed to move forward in our lives, who saved us from despair. Together, we will find ways, by starting with ourselves in our congregation, to ultimately quench the thirst of many in our community and nation who seek to drink the waters of hope and optimism. May we find many ways to offer them that gift – and let us say amen.