I have stopped watching television news. I carefully select the articles I read on the Web. As I drive to school, I constantly change from one radio news channel to another. I barely read the newspaper. I am overwhelmed and fatigued from the bad news. Our grandchildren — maybe even our children — will be burned alive by the radiation penetrating the atmosphere through holes in the ozone layer. They will face food shortages and drought as the climate changes. Our ecological system is doomed by global warming. Terrorists are preparing to attack our cities with ever more terrible weapons and toxins. Our economy is quickly unwinding as global financial markets sink deeper into chaos. Our wealth has been all but obliterated by the precipitous fall in equity values. We are threatened by new antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria and dangerous new viruses. Why wake up and start a new day?
Actually, I am sure some good things are taking place in our world. I assume that every day there are new discoveries in the world of science, inspiring acts of kindness and compassion occur, individuals and communities overcome overwhelming challenges, and somewhere there is pleasant weather. But apparently, the media have tapped into some deep-seated element of depression and anxiety in the collective consciousness of humankind and determined that we would rather hear the bad news. This fascination with doom and disaster is not healthy and it certainly will not facilitate our facing the real challenges we encounter in life.
Our community is facing real and difficult challenges. Some of our members have lost their jobs. Others who were comfortably retired are now struggling to pay their monthly bills. Our schools and agencies wonder how they will meet emerging needs. As a head of school, I wonder how we will provide our families with adequate financial aid.
I feel anxious about meeting our fundraising targets. I am deeply troubled by the suffering experienced by some of our school’s families. I believe that we can navigate through the challenges presented by the economic downturn. However, our success will require that we adopt the proper attitude and spirit.
First, we need to embrace a realistic perspective on the current recession. I grew up in the coldest years of the Cold War. We were constantly alerted to prepare for imminent atomic attack. We had bomb shelters in the basements of public buildings. The shul I attended still has the black and yellow bomb shelter sticker from those years. Well, what a surprise! We are still here.
Remember the “dot-com bust” and the resultant collapse of equity markets? The market recovered. And the S&L crisis? The banking industry survived.
I do recognize that the current downturn is more severe than any others most of us have experienced. But the history of “impending disaster” should assure us that life does go on and somehow we muddle through these challenges and survive. I am sure we will survive the current crisis.
Second, many members of our community will suffer and our agencies will struggle. We need to address these issues as a community. The key to confronting our challenges is to act with confidence and foresight. Virtually all of us have been affected by the downturn. The value of our assets has decreased and many of us are adapting to living with less income. But those of us who have a steady, stable income and have significant assets and savings must appreciate this blessing and recognize that we must use this blessing to help our community.
These two responses are related. Those who believe that they are facing impending doom are not likely to part with any portion of their resources in order to assist others. But if we can adopt a more positive, long-range perspective in facing our current challenges, it will be easier for each of us to act properly.
Last, the mitzvah of tzedakah — charity — benefits both the recipient and the benefactor. The benefit to the recipient is obvious. But the benefit to the benefactor is less apparent and requires explanation. Individuals obsessed with their wealth and driven by the fear of losing this wealth cannot enjoy their blessings. Every penny spent threatens to undermine their prosperity. The drive to achieve some ever-evasive sense of financial security dominates their lives. Those who develop the ability to share their resources with others discover that they receive a reciprocal benefit. They develop a healthier personal attitude toward their own prosperity.
Thank you for considering these thoughts and I know that working together we will come through the coming months a stronger and more thoughtful community.