August 15, 2023

When I was studying social work in grad school, one of the aspects that always stuck out most to me was the idea of empathy and compassion. While similar in nature, they often manifest in different ways. One can be compassionate about what someone is going through, but empathy is often more critical. By being empathetic, a person shows someone else that they understand what they are going through and make the other person feel they are not alone.

I have been thinking about these concepts and practices as the pictures and stories continue to pour out following the unbelievable fires and devastation on Maui. Seeing social media posts of people in our community who have a deep connection to the island was powerful to me. You see, while I believe we care about what happens to people when we have a specific connection to an area, I feel that people feel this loss more deeply.

And yet, what I absolutely love about our worldwide Jewish community is that when disaster strikes, the Jewish community tends to be one of the first groups offering help or making an effort to raise money to support those in need. We do this because it is an integral part of our tradition.

In Pirkei Avot (Sayings of our Fathers/Sages) Chapter 2, verse 5, Rabbi Hillel teaches us, “Do not separate yourself from the community.” This teaching has guided our people for centuries and ensured that we understand the importance of not just helping Jews but anyone in need.

Here’s an interesting fact. Did you know that Israel is often one of THE first countries to send help when a natural disaster occurs? It is because of the understanding that we must take care of each other and help those in need… especially when it is needed the most. And while some people say Israel does it for good PR…. I can assure you this is not the case. They do it not only because it is the right thing to do but also because it is another essential Jewish teaching “Do unto others as you would like them to do unto you.”

In times of trouble, we must be there for those in need. I can assure you that our Jewish Federation, along with Jewish Federations all across North America and other Jewish organizations, will always stand up and do what we can.


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