Monday, January 25, 2010

Volunteering to Strengthen the Region and Create Leaders

Reading an article in Fortune Magazine on the way the best corporations in America create future leaders, I wasn’t surprised to find out that the companies send their strongest officers to far away developing countries to work for two years helping the natives (sort of like industrial Peace Corps).
After those two years, they return to home base as stronger individuals, more in tune with society, more in tune with their own souls, and having forged relationships that can never be broken.
Fortune saw this practice as a chidush (newfound insight). I saw it as an ancient one, a foundation of the world. Our sages teach us (Ethics of Our Fathers), “On three things the world exists: on the Torah, on the Avodah (service in Bet HaMikdash) and on Gemilut Chasadim (acts of loving kindness, or good deeds).”
Maybe multi-billion dollar corporations IBM, Fedex and WalMart haven’t learned anything about Torah or Bet HaMikdash yet, but they’re one step ahead of the globe in knowing that great men are created by acts that benefit others and build a better world.
Here in my own little part of the hemisphere, the Regional Council of Gush Etzion has undertaken a project among many of its towns in which adults and youth alike commit a part of their week, every week, for chesed activities (volunteerism).
Thus far, eight towns in the Gush are participating.
At a meeting to launch the volunteer project that will be undertaken in the Southeastern Gush Etzion town of Metzad, Naamah Katz (no relation), director of the Youth Division of the Gush Etzion Regional Council, spoke to a room full of enthusiastic women and teens.
Naamah noted that about a half a year ago, the Gush Etzion Regional Council was looking for something that could be a common project among all the varied communities of Gush Etzion. “We wanted something that would increase connection within our communities. We realized that all the communities have needs – some that are different, and others that are often very similar. We also realized that we are a society that is used to volunteerism.”
“Mostly everyone in our communities has been involved in chesed – giving out food, clothing, visiting Old Age Homes on Purim, etc.,” Naamah said. She added that often, it is easier to volunteer outside [our towns]. It’s easier to see difficulties of places beyond [our own areas].
However, it is more important to launch our volunteer efforts within our own neighborhoods.
Naamah explained that this is precisely the reason the Torah begins with the stories in the Book of Bereishit (Genesis) instead of a list of mitzvoth. She said that a Moetza worker explained, “Everything begins with family, and with the people closest to us. Everything begins in our little environment. It begins with relationships in our families, relationships between our generations, and the foundations of our life are built on a system of family and ethics.”
Naamah noted, “First we must look to the needs of our inner most circle – the needs of our family, followed by the needs of our neighbors, and then our community.”
“This will help us build a healthy society. We will have a Jewish quality of life, and a better quality of life with our families, our neighbors, our school, our world.”
In order to build this healthy environment, we must be in tune with our surroundings, and realize its importance, she noted.
Sometimes when our eyes are not opened to the difficulties in our neighbors’ homes, we might not even realize that there is illness in one family, or another that needs help with its kids. Naamah warned that we do not have to look only at our neighbors weaknesses, but also at their strengths. “And we should think, ‘What can I do to strengthen my community?’”
As she began working with different towns in Gush Etzion, she realized that they were all eager to become stronger, and base that strength on chesed.
“To be based on chesed, you have to act. You can’t stand by and say, ‘Wow, I wish I could do that, but I don’t have time.’ You have to find two hours a week, and it’s not easy. And we adults, if we don’t give the personal example of also finding two hours a week for the benefit of the public, both the children and the youth will say, ‘Why should we do it?’”
Naamah observed, “We are a community based on looking out for the other and feeling a responsibility for one another. We don’t judge others. We just see who needs what, and help whomever we can. When you volunteer, you do it for the sake of volunteering and not for a payback. It’s an honorable thing to volunteer in one’s community, and it adds to the value of the community.”
Naamah concluded, “As a Moetza and as a region, everyone who helps someone else is actually sustaining a Jewish soul that makes it a better place. And we’re all actually benefiting individually and as a community.”
Just as Fortune companies found out, stretching one’s muscles of creativity, sympathy and responsibility through volunteering creates the leaders of tomorrow.
On a Personal Note
I got a lot of nachas at the Volunteerism Program in Meitzad, B"H. My daughter-in-law Sara Yalta Katz is the local Youth Director. Naama praised Sara Yalta's work with the youth, who Naamah said are among the most united and eager to volunteer in Gush Etzion. Naama also lauded Sara Yalta's constant striving to create positive activities for her teenagers, and the determination that she and her co-worker Community Director Esther Tantz show in striving to encourage the Moetza to participate in programs for the development and blossoming of the Meitzad Community.

Voices TV presents Naamah Katz's address on video,

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