Mintz: Where change starts |

Mintz: Where change starts

A little more than two weeks ago, world Jewry celebrated Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks, known as Pentecost. It’s the day that God descended in all hhis glory onto Mount Sinai, with Moses standing nearby, and delivered the Torah, the ancient five books of divine wisdom with its 613 commandments.

Each year, in the leadup to this propitious holiday, we count 49 days, encouraged to utilize this time to refine our seven emotional character-traits as each of them is interrelated with the other six. It’s an annual seven-week opportunity for introspection, internalization, self-cleansing and energy drawing to head into summer a more refined Jew, a better citizen, and a highly dignified human being.

I once saw a great bumper sticker that spoke to me; it said, “challenge your own status quo, before someone else does.” It’s vital for each of us to personally take stock of our behaviors, our way of thinking, our form of speech, and our attitude to “others.”

All of us are an “other” in some way to some people; we come from different ethnicities, celebrate different religions, were raised into families that were in different financial brackets, and have perspectives engrained in our psyche that to some will seem odd or weird, yet our human dignity should unite us and for that to be actualized in our life, we need to work on ourselves.

If the realities of COVID-19 weren’t challenging enough, our beautiful country is now experiencing an existential crisis about race and human dignity. I grew up in Crown Heights, in the heart of Brooklyn, New York, and was a young 10-year-old when we endured the horrific 1991 Crown Heights Riots that included the vicious murder of Yeshiva student Yankel Rosenbaum.

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Yet, despite the initial division that came about as a result of the riots, fracturing the Jewish and African American community and bringing fear to the neighborhood, the long-term reality of the day to day was friendly and respectful, because skin color wasn’t a factor in how we saw our fellow humans and it never should be.

In the aftermath of the riots in 1991, Mayor David Dinkins met with my mentor the Lubavitcher Rebbe of blessed memory, seeking his blessing and advice on how to best move forward as a city.

The Rebbe expressed his hope that Mayor Dinkins “would be able to bring peace to the city.”

When the mayor added, “to both sides!” the Rebbe responded with a smile: “We are not two sides; we are one side. We are one people living in one city under one administration and under one God. May God protect the police and all the people of the city.”

I am a work in progress myself. I spend time each day working on my own refinement, doing my very best to be a better husband, father, son, brother, uncle and rabbi. Change of oneself is never easy, but as the holiday of Shavuot taught me, if we are ever going to change the world, it must start from within. 

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