A Responsibility To One Another

January 9, 2014
BY Joshua Runyan

runyan_josh_otHome, as the popular expression goes, is where the heart is. Another one has it as where you hang your hat.

Beyond the address where you live, home is where both your mind and your heart dwell. It can be a physical location — a house is the first thing that comes to mind — or it can be a spiritual space, such as the study of Torah or the process of acquiring knowledge of the Divine.

Home can be wherever you find yourself — “Today, I’m here; tomorrow, I’m there” — or it can be an ideal that you strive to create.

A young couple eating at one of our kosher restaurants recently remarked that they moved to Charm City in large part because of the Baltimore Jewish Times. The vibrancy of Jewish life here leaped out from the pages, so to speak, convincing them that Baltimore had it all: good schools, good shuls, a great community.

This week, you’ll read about another group of homeseekers, of those replacing the “house” of the proverbial American dream with “home.” For them, these creators and sustainers of “intentional communities,” the notion of home is incomplete without the broader concept of neighbors.

They happen to be right.

Although the idea was often ridiculed in certain sectors of the United States in the early 1990s, Hillary Clinton’s “It Takes a Village” struck a chord. Yes, it presented an idealized notion of a community — as opposed to parents — raising children, but the concept happens to be quintessentially Jewish. The Talmud expands on a verse in the Book of Leviticus by applying a public responsibility to keeping individuals from transgressing the Torah’s commands. In practice, this idea has been expressed in some pretty extreme ways, but the underlying message is clear: If we can’t take care of each other, who will?

This imperative holds true for every community, whether a subset of the global Jewish community or a nonreligious one. The difference between a community and an organization lies in the interdependence of its members. If entire segments of a community reach outside to fulfill their needs, be they spiritual, physical or financial, then the community itself is lacking. But if the community provides for its members — and each member feels a certain responsibility for every other member — then the community can be said to be healthy.

That’s what makes Jewish Baltimore so great. Here we have a plethora of social and financial assistance programs, we have a vast network of synagogues, decked-out community centers and, in many areas, caring neighbors looking out for all of us. But even Jewish Baltimore can do better.

There are still those on the margins; there are still those who don’t feel connected. There continue to be Jews who look outside of the community to fulfill their needs. The JT will continue to do its part, both to highlight the ways we all can be connected and to provide some of that connection as well.

It’s wonderful to see Jews everywhere rally to meet outside threats. But it’s downright awe inspiring when Jews rally to meet the challenges from within.

Joshua Runyan is JT editor-in-chief — jrunyan@jewishtimes.com

ADD COMMENTS