From Hope to Reality

Editor-in-Chief

Editor-in-Chief

President Barack Obama, ever the optimist — he was the author of “Audacity of Hope,” after all — believes that humankind will eventually rise to the challenge of confronting climate change. The only question in his mind is whether the global response to rising temperatures, melting glaciers and destructive weather patterns will be sufficiently rapid to forestall further catastrophe.

“I actually think we’re going to solve this thing,” Obama told reporters in Paris Tuesday toward the end of a news conference marking the end of his on-the-scene participation in the global climate talks. “If you had said to people as recently as two years ago that we’d have 180 countries showing up in Paris with pretty ambitious  targets for carbon reduction, most people would have said, ‘You’re crazy. That’s a pipe dream.’ And yet, here  we are.”

The president’s optimism only makes sense when you consider the concept of generational problems and generational change. “Climate change is a massive problem,” he said. “It is a generational problem. It’s a problem that, by definition, is just about the hardest thing for any political system to absorb, because the effects are gradual, they’re diffuse. … It kind of creeps up on you.”

This week’s cover story looks at the 125th anniversary of a landmark  institution here in Baltimore — Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital, which has become a central feature in the lives of many of the community’s seniors and their families. These types of stories invariably offer the chance for community members to reflect on an institution’s accomplishments — how it’s changed, how it’s evolved. But it’s also an  opportunity to reflect on how the  community around it — how society at large — has developed.

The world in 1890 looked quite different from the world of today, and no one would be criticized for rightly noting that life in the early part of the 21st century bears little  resemblance to life in the late 19th. The changes wrought by industry, by technology and by custom have been dramatic, upending conceptions of the family, of communication, of  exploration and of politics.

But to a person living through them — save, of course, for such thunderclap moments of upheaval as the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the  assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., and the moon landing — is it not reasonable to assume that change came gradually? Children born today have little to no conception of what it means to have a “landline,” an encyclopedia or a word processor. In that sense, change, just in the past 40 years, has been dramatic. But to those of us who have lived through those decades, we probably barely noticed how revolutionary such developments as the  personal computer, cellphone and  Internet were at the time.

Looking back at the current “generational problems” such as climate change — others are systemic racism, anti-Semitism, poverty and crime — we might get frustrated when the change that we yearn for is slow to come. It’s the kind of anger now animating the protestors outside downtown Baltimore’s courthouse, where their screams can be heard by potential jurors in the first of the Freddie Gray trials. But if we take a look at history, we can appreciate the progress — not noticed at the time — that has brought us to where we are today.

At the end of the day, generational problems require generational changes. Knowing this takes the idea of hope from the realm of idealism and into the realm of reality.

jrunyan@midatlanticmedia.com

Giving and Gratitude

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Editor-in-Chief

Jewish tradition teaches that there’s no greater mitzvah than the giving of tzedakah. Extend the concept and you can conclude that there’s no greater act than that of helping out your fellow human being, of giving something up of yourself — your time, your talents, your possessions — to make another person’s life that much better.

It’s almost intuitive. It’s a concept so fundamental not only to Judaism, but to the fabric of society itself, that it’s a wonder we have such rampant poverty and the scourges of disease and violence fueled by a lack of basic necessities. And yet homelessness and despair continue to plague vast swaths of local neighborhoods, let alone in other parts of the world.

Like giving, showing gratitude is an act that should also be a predominant feature of every person’s day.

As you’ll read in this week’s JT, plenty of Jewish agencies and activists are stepping up, each one doing his or her part to making the world a better place. In addition to The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore and all of its related causes, there are the synagogues and volunteers associated with HIAS who are helping settle Syrian refugees, there’s organizations like Hungry Harvest working to bring nutrition to food deserts — even directly into kids’ backpacks, as in the case of 78-year-old Sandie Nagel’s effort — and there’s Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin and likeminded environmentalists who are fighting the injustices of poor resource management and climate change.

As it turns out, this week is an opportune time to think charitably. If you haven’t taken a gander at your Thanksgiving feast with a nod to the food that many families go without, and even if you have, there’s Giving Tuesday next week to remind you to give. And nonprofits will be quick to tell you that it doesn’t take much to change someone’s life — even the act of giving itself, however small, leaves an indelible impression on the giver, as well.

But I can’t help but think that in all of the focus on giving, perhaps the idea of giving thanks that remains the basis for Thanksgiving is lost. It’s great that there’s this one time of the year when the act of giving becomes paramount, but shouldn’t the call to give be the operating principle of every day of the year? Isn’t there an inherent value in acknowledging what you have, whether how much or how little, especially when doing so underscores the sobering fact that you couldn’t have made it this far on your own?

To have is no sin, but failing to acknowledge it is the root of many of the world’s evils. It’s the attitude that leads you to decide that another person is not worthy of charity because you need the money, or food or clothing or sympathy, more. Worse than failing to give, ungratefulness — to others or to the Almighty — creates a universe of one: yourself.

This is not to say that Thanksgiving should not be about giving; but Thanksgiving should also be about thanking. Come to think of it, like giving, showing gratitude is an act that should also be a predominant feature of every person’s day.

jrunyan@midatlanticmedia.com

The Pain of Our Elders

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I remember my first history teacher in junior high invoking a famous aphorism in defense of her claiming an hour and a half every other day of a roomful of rambunctious adolescents’ time: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

For the immediate purposes of that class, the inability to remember the past condemned many to bad grades, but at a time when the world seems to have descended into chaos, George Santayana’s observation about mankind’s predilection to historical amnesia is a powerful reminder that whatever challenges we face, we’ve faced them before in one form or another.

Reading the headlines of the Paris attacks over the weekend, my mind immediately turned to the events of almost exactly seven years ago, when — just as in France late last week — teams of heavily armed, heavily maneuverable terrorists made their way through heavily populated targets to inflict mass casualties. Then, as now, gunmen shot up restaurants and cafes, although they also occupied a hotel and massacred six Jews at the local Chabad House.

And just as the world saw those attacks as a kind of turning point in world opinion, observers of November 2015 have already identified this as the month that the world finally united in the face of Islamic terrorism.

The problem is, if history is a guide, I’m not so sure how long lasting this unity will be, or even if it will be of much effect. However strong the emotions and steadfastness of Westerners in the wake of 9/11, the bombing of Pearl Harbor or the burning of the White House, at some point in time, most everyone returns to the new normal. So what, pray tell, will be in the weeks and months ahead?

The ones best positioned to answer, granting of course that no one is a prophet, are those who have lived through such events, have fought the battles, have cried the tears, have made the peace, have memorialized the dead. That’s what makes a project such as a book coming out of celebrations of North Oak’s 25th anniversary so valuable. As you’ll read in this week’s JT, among those living at the venerable Pikesville institution are members of the Greatest Generation who have been taking a writing class with Goucher College professor Barbara Roswell.

Roswell recently published works from that class, collecting 60 essays, poems and short stories together as “View from the Hilltop.”

“You meander down the streets of Baltimore City in the 1920s to the Ideal Music Shop, absorb the shock of Pearl Harbor, camp on Korean battlefields, meet Jackie Mason, celebrate marriages and careers, ride horseback in Afghanistan,” she writes in the introduction.

When these living monuments to history experience the present, what do they think?

I know from my own conversations with my 91-year-old grandfather that in the days after hijacked airliners brought down the twin towers of the World Trade Center, smashed into the Pentagon and crashed into a Pennsylvania field, he bemoaned the senseless loss of life and the willingness of radicals to sacrifice themselves — and anyone around them — not in the pursuit of a higher ideal, but in the quest to destroy the progress that has defined mankind.

As we once again face the destruction that has unfortunately served as milestones along the road of human history, those of us who are young, no matter our ethnicity, would do well to remember the pain of our elders … and take it to heart.

jrunyan@midatlanticmedia.com

The Power of Now

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Editor-in-Chief

One of the more memorable presentations to come out of the recently concluded 2015 General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America had nothing to do with politics or the fate of Israel. It didn’t come from the likes of Israeli Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog, who on Monday gave an impassioned defense of ethnically sensitive democracy in the Middle East, and they didn’t come from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who fresh from a sit-down with President Barack Obama the day before delivered a full-throated defense of the Jewish state’s policies in the Middle East on Tuesday.

What instead seemed to keep people talking — among the young professionals, at least — was a TED Talk-style presentation from a leader in the social engagement and philanthropic world. Purpose.com CEO Jeremy Heimans’ message, while challenging, was inspiring: In a decentralized world where more and more people are taking power into their own hands even as they simultaneously redefine it, organizations and communities must reorient themselves if they are to stay relevant.

What Heimans meant was to cease thinking of power in the form of currency, but in the form of current. Power and influence, in other words, isn’t meant to be hoarded; it should instead flow. Facebook is not powerful because of the number of users it enrolls, he explained, but because of the frequency with which those users rely on Facebook as a tool.

In this reality, the end goal is not the amassing of wealth, but the achieving of social change.

What makes such an outlook so revolutionary is that it doesn’t just impact the more staid realms of fundraising and people counting — two of the many functions of the organized Jewish world. It can be applied to a host of human activities, from how we organize to how we congregate to how we pair off. After years of top-down processing, where organizations existed to benefit clientele of their own defining, we find ourselves in a world of grassroots organizing, where causes and concerns grow organically out of the shared priorities of strangers.

If we were to apply this new model to the question of Jewish continuity, we would see that for many years, a growing proportion of the community has thrown off the old rules of the past and embraced the notion of interdating and intermarriage. All of the movements have developed their own strategies to deal with the phenomenon, including the decision by some movements to relax their own strictures on the practice.

Some might say that such a strategy, while rooted in the admirable desire to keep those who identify as Jewish within the communal tent, is missing the point. As you’ll read in this week’s JT, others have decided to place more faith in the young by shifting the power to them. The new power model so eloquently explained at the G.A. can be seen in the completely new technology of Jewish-dating apps. Instead of top-down matchmaking, these Web-based tools are making it easier for Jews, especially in Baltimore, to pair off.

As with anything new, the proof of these programs’ success or failure will only be seen with time, but if old power structures are crumbling anyway, maybe we should be caring less about redefining the contours of religious movements and caring more about letting the future generations decide for themselves where they want to be. At the end of the day, if they want to marry Jewish, the community should be doing all it can to empower them to fulfill that wish.

jrunyan@midatlanticmedia.com

We Need to Do More

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Editor-in-Chief

Nearly one in 10 Americans — 9 percent, to be exact — served in the armed forces during World War II, but according to the Pew Research Center, in the post-draft world in which the United States relies on a professional volunteer military, just .5 percent of the public has served during any given point after 9/11.

And while in 2011, a full 91 percent of Americans reported feeling proud of those who served — a significant improvement from the days during the Vietnam era, when returning veterans were called “baby killers” and booted out of bars — today’s veterans are increasingly likely to say that the general public does not understand the unique problems they face.

As we approach Veterans Day on Nov. 11, a day marked out on the calendar specifically to honor the service of those who represented their country in uniform, we find ourselves in the midst of a generational gap when it comes to who serves and how they’re cared for upon their return home.

As you’ll read in this week’s cover story, a plethora of resources are available to veterans, both in terms of advocacy — Jewish War Veterans, for instance, was formed in 1896 in response to the misperception that Jews did not serve during the Civil War — and government and nonprofit support. Organizations such as Hiring our Heroes and Operation Hire Maryland match veterans with employers, while the Veterans Administration offers health care. There’s even special courts now to deal with veterans accused of crimes, an innovation built upon the recognition that veterans’ experiences in the military make them more prone to such conditions as alcoholism, drug abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder

Are we as a society doing enough? Of course not. The VA is drastically underfunded and notoriously mismanaged, and the needs of veterans unfortunately do not rank very high on the public’s list of concerns. Clearly, we need to do more, especially when considering that another mass call-up of troops to serve in Syria is becoming more likely as time goes on.

But there’s another lesson that can be learned from honoring the service of veterans and contemplating the sacrifices they make in taking up arms for the United States. Some developed nations, although not the United States, actually mandate some type of national service. In Israel, where mandatory conscription is the norm, those objecting to military service may instead serve the state in a civil capacity such as by teaching underprivileged children.

We’ve all gotten used to the idea that college attendance is a given, not an exception, for American youth. But with many universities abutting poverty-challenged areas, imagine the impact a summer of mandatory civilian service by incoming undergraduates would have on such communities!

Such a law, or even a custom, is unlikely to be enacted, but we as a community can start with ourselves. In addition to honoring the service of veterans, we should be inspired by their dedication to something higher than themselves. Whereas they put their lives on the line in the defense of the United States, we all can put our time and energy on the line in the pursuit of making our society better.

The day may yet come when swords are turned into plowshares, but what kind of a world will it be if we’re not willing to make sacrifices for one another?

jrunyan@midatlanticmedia.com

The Power of Truth

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Editor-in-Chief

Truth, it’s been said, is stranger than fiction. How else would you describe the presence of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Amtrak’s hallowed “quiet car,” the ravings of some in Carroll County that one’s  religious identity is inherently incompatible with the Constitution or a self-described “democratic socialist” like Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders  drawing thousands to his campaign  appearances in Iowa despite the fact that most of those cheering him on have no idea what the label means.

But Mark Twain’s famous aphorism means more than just an easy way to castigate politicians and politics for being political. To grasp that reality, we have to look at his complete quote.

“Truth is stranger than fiction,” he wrote in “Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World,” but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.”

We may not realize it at the time, but because the creative process is rooted in prior experience, even the most fanciful fiction is grounded in some probable reality. Take the case of the “Back to the Future” franchise everyone celebrated last week: In  creating the second installment — which famously sends “Doc” Brown and Marty McFly to Oct. 21, 2015, filmmaker Robert Zemeckis reportedly utilized futurists to help  anticipate the types of technology that would inhabit our world.  Working in 1989, they got several things right — the use of videoconferencing software is widespread,  flying cars do exist (although not on as grand a scale as depicted in the movie), news gathering is increasingly being outsourced to computers, drones are commonplace and, as one Washington Post columnist pointed out, ’80s nostalgia reigns supreme.

What makes fiction, or any art form for that matter, so great is its embrace of the probable. We can foresee a more perfect world at some point in the future, because we know that the only limitation holding us back is probability. Leonardo  da Vinci could dream up a flying  apparatus not because the creation was impossible to achieve, but  because only time stood between him and the dream actually taking flight.

This is why the creative arts are so necessary in an advanced society and why it is noteworthy that an institution such as the Peggy and Yale Gordon Center for Performing Arts is now celebrating its 20th anniversary. As you’ll read in this week’s JT, the pitch for Owings Mills’ Gordon Center in 1991 was not an easy one, given that the country was in the midst of a recession, but a $2 million pledge is hard to pass up, especially when at that time, the Jewish community was without a performing arts center of its own. As it turned out, the decision by the JCC and The Associated:  Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore to pursue the venture was worthy of applause.

Today, the Gordon Center’s lineup is a study in diversity, both in points of view and genre. It’s a place where audiences can go to be inspired, to be challenged, to be wowed. It’s a place where fiction can reign supreme.

But as great as fiction is, looking at Twain’s statement, we see truth as being the more powerful concept. Whereas fiction must confine itself, truth is actually limitless. We can say without a doubt that in truth, a more perfect world does indeed exist. Powered by the inspiration afforded us by fiction, it is not a fiction to pursue the perfection it aspires to; we will, in fact, one day reach it.

 

jrunyan@midatlanticmedia.com

What’s Next?

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Editor-in-Chief

We may not be witnessing a Third Intifada, but the near month-long upswing in Palestinian violence has its own name nevertheless, with commentators now taking to calling it the “stabbing Intifada.”

As is usually the case with monikers crafted for the benefit of simplifying phenomena that logically defy simplification, the name does not do the bloodletting justice. It’s not just knives, and when you factor in the incitement coming from Palestinian leaders and terrorist groups, this is not the work of crazed “lone wolves,” as if right in the middle of the Jewish High Holidays and following them, Palestinians throughout Jerusalem, the West Bank and Israel proper spontaneously snapped.

No, what we are seeing, while thankfully far from the bus bombings that characterized the late 1990s and early 2000s, is another spate of terror in the Middle East, with innocents being murdered in cold blood and parts of Israel returning to a siege mentality. Shops are virtually empty; children are being kept home from school; soldiers, for the first time in a decade, are serving alongside police in municipal areas.

Few among us can even claim to not being affected by the violence. In my own case, I learned late last week that my father-in-law was one of the witnesses to the fatal stabbing of a 70-year-old woman outside Jerusalem’s Central Bus Station. My wife now checks the news and on her parents on a more-than-daily basis, knowing that the randomness of the attacks has left no one demonstrably safe.

But if what is taking place in the Holy Land is part and parcel of the same conflagration, we know that we’ve all been here before. In that case, “cycle of violence,” a term rightfully abhorred for its propensity to minimize the horror felt by victims and to, in a sense, equate the attacks of terrorists with the self-defensive actions of potential victims and security forces, is nevertheless a statement of fact. Violence against Jews, especially in the Jewish state, is all too cyclical.

As before, we in the diaspora are responding with prayer vigils, solidarity rallies and principled visits to Israel to show our support. As you’ll read in this week’s JT, the Baltimore Jewish Council and other local groups are voicing their alarm and deploring the inability of the United States to put a stop to terrorism.

Hopefully, as with past iterations of the cycle, the violence will soon fizzle out, but can we really rely on the randomness of chance to return Israel to the country of hope we all know it to be? At the end of the day — and this is a point echoed frequently in this column as well as in the JT’s editorials — someone, somewhere must have an answer, a solution to the chaos that plagues the Middle East.

In Washington, Israeli lawmakers from both the ruling Likud Party and the opposition faced off during the Israeli-American Council’s annual conference over who and what is to blame for the latest violence. Some blamed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas; others blamed the situation. All agreed, however, that the status quo is untenable.

Here’s to hoping that the answers to “What next?” come quickly.

jrunyan@midatlanticmedia.com

Reality of Abuse

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Editor-in-Chief

With so much craziness and evil in the world outside, it’s easy for many of us to lull ourselves into thinking that the community we live in is perfect.

Such has been the thinking in past generations — and probably of some in the current day and age — who comforted themselves with the hope masquerading as knowledge that we Jews were different. Alcoholism and drug addiction? Non-Jewish problems, they’d say. Domestic violence? Nonexistent.

Even at the time, such notions were ludicrous, of course, but many don’t realize that communal efforts to combat the afflictions of substance abuse and domestic violence are relatively modern phenomena. In the ’90s — the ’90s! — a Jewish acknowledgement of spousal and sexual abuse, for instance, was far from common, let alone the acknowledgement that Jewish victims deserved a response sensitive to their very real Jewish needs.

In Baltimore, that all changed 20 years ago with the arrival of CHANA.

As you’ll read in this week’s cover story, the organization, which is supported by The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, has its roots in the discovery by Brenda Brown Rever that safe havens for Jewish women were lacking. At the time a board member of The House of Ruth, Rever noticed a trend of Jewish women calling the shelter’s helpline but not availing themselves of its shelter services. Some inquired about kosher facilities, but those didn’t even exist.

But with a mission to provide a Jewish response to trauma for primarily Jewish victims of abuse, CHANA does so much more than provide shelter to women seeking safety. Its case workers serve segments of the community dealing with sexual abuse and counsel male victims of domestic violence; the organization even helps non-Jews who seek out its help. The assistance is comprehensive, comprising legal help, psychological treatment, therapeutic activities and shelter.

A relatively new effort is also taking aim at abuse of senior citizens and the homebound elderly, with a senior-friendly safe house set to open in 2016.

“As we expand our definition of what abuse is,” says director Nancy Aiken, “we have to expand our response.”

For all the good the organization does, it’s difficult to accept that its work is so revolutionary. And while few hold the dangerous beliefs of the past that led so many to cower in the shadows, the need for an organization such as CHANA is a sobering reminder of how imperfect we truly are.

Herein lies the duality we face in caring for the abused in our midst. While it’s tempting to project our hope for Jewish perfection onto a reality that is anything but, the very fact that our global Jewish community, like any other in the world, is made up of human beings means that we too must deal with the horror human beings are all too capable to inflict on others. Acknowledging that reality is the first step to overcoming and ultimately transforming it.

But aiding victims does not happen in a vacuum, a fact that underlies CHANA’s mission to also educate the wider community about the signs of abuse and what can be done to minimize its occurrence.

CHANA’s staff speak in terms of tangible progress being made. Because of their efforts, maybe the conversation 20 years from now will not be about abuse, but rather healing.

jrunyan@midatlanticmedia.com

The Right Person

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Editor-in-Chief

As a city of neighborhoods, Baltimore could easily be viewed as a municipality by its very nature destined for conflict. The concerns of the Inner Harbor are distinct from the needs of Penn North; Roland Park is not Southwest Baltimore, and what the primarily Jewish community in Upper Park Heights experiences is unique from the reality of life in other parts of the city.

That’s why, for someone living in Glen or Mount Washington, it’s sometimes easy to ignore the surge of violence in other parts of Baltimore, an epidemic of shooting deaths and drug-related crime that has gone practically unabated since the late spring riots put the city on national news broadcasts. But then, last Friday, two shootings shattered the sense that — the increase in break-ins and auto thefts notwithstanding — life in the upper reaches of Northwest Baltimore is somehow different. One took place in the shopping center housing the Motor Vehicle Administration, where many of the JT’s readers get their drivers licenses; the other created a crime scene in the 5900 block of Cross Country Boulevard.

Make no mistake, Baltimore is in trouble. It doesn’t matter where you live, the crime and the malaise that have taken hold — in a sense, deepening since Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s surprise announcement last month that she would not be running for re-election — affect us all. This is why so much is riding on the upcoming mayoral election, which will likely be decided a little more than six months from now in the April 26 Democratic primary.

As you’ll read in this week’s cover story, the fight for City Hall is really anybody’s game. At the moment, three strong aspirants — Councilman Carl Stokes, former mayor Sheila Dixon and state Sen. Catherine Pugh — as well as several lesser-known candidates have all announced their bids. In addition, Councilman Nick Mosby and Del. Jill Carter are considering running. With so many politicians in the pool, their success in the coming weeks will hinge on their ability to convince voters they have a credible plan to turn Baltimore around.

Because the problems are so large and widespread — in addition to crime, such issues as reduced city services and high taxes, according to City Council candidate and Cheswolde Neighborhood Association vice president Isaac Schleifer, dampen the prospects of attracting new business and population growth — communities and the politicians who cater to them will have to start taking a “we’re all in this together” approach.

To view any one part as distinct will, in the long run, achieve nothing.

“The Jewish community shares the same goals as the rest of … the residents of the city,” says Art Abramson, the outgoing executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council. We need to “get back to a strong sustainability of what worked to get people to move here and stop what led to a decline in population.”

So the poverty that plagues a quarter of the city must be addressed; so too must the racial disparities in policing be curbed. But above all, we need a strong leader to appeal to the shared humanity among us all, whether we’re working-class residents, wealthy developers or small business owners.

“Baltimore has so much to offer as a city,” says Avrahom Sauer, president of the Cross County Improvement Association.

Should we get the right person at the top, Sauer couldn’t be more right.

jrunyan@midatlanticmedia.com

A Better World

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In his whirlwind tour of three American cities last week before departing for Rome, Pope Francis inspired crowds totaling close to a million people at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, prodded politicians in Washington to reach out to the less fortunate, especially immigrants, and exhorted world leaders gathered at the United Nations to recognize a new “right of the environment.”

In his vision, standing between the inequality of today and the promise of a perfect tomorrow is the impulse among human beings to separate into warring camps, each decrying the other as evil. But it is that impulse, the pope said in Washington, that is inherently evil. Imagine the world, his visit essentially posited, that could result if all of us thought first of “the other” instead of ourselves?

Francis’ message is indeed an inspiring one. Rabbi Rick Jacobs told The Washington Post last Friday: “I can’t help but think, what would the experience of World War II have been if Pope Francis had been pope? What would have been if the moral voice coming from the Vatican would have been this pope’s voice? He wouldn’t have erased World War II, but I know many more of my people and those persecuted by Nazis would have not only fared better, but survived.”

Jacobs, president of the Union of Reform Judaism, is essentially arguing that a lack of moral authority in the world allowed the horror of the Holocaust. It’s a similar line of thought among many you’ll read about in this week’s cover story. There’s French Jewish historian Jules Isaac, the Holocaust survivor whose work with Catholics led directly to 1965’s groundbreaking Nostra Aetate, for instance. Others like him believe that because of people like Pope Francis, the horror of the Holocaust is less likely today.

They may have a point. But I can’t help but think that the vision embodied in Pope Francis’ many speeches and pronouncements is rooted in an idealized, utopian yet-to-be-accomplished world. That’s fine for a religious leader, but difficult to embrace from the standpoint of public policy.

In the founding days of the United States, future president James Madison wrote, “If all men were angels, no government would be necessary.” Government, in other words, exists to protect society from the natural evil impulses of its members. But government is also made up of imperfect people chosen by vote or circumstance to govern their fellow imperfect peers.

A better system could only exist if the people of the world were themselves better. Which is why, for all of the inspiration being derived from the pope’s presence here in North America, the prospect for change is slim unless everyone — politicians and constituents, rich and poor — looks within and commits to change how he or she individually sees the world. Until that day, chances are, like one observer of the United Nations noted, broad pronouncements of what should be will quickly return to dealing with what is.

A half century after Nostra Aetate, anti-Semitism (just one of the world’s many evils) remains rampant in some quarters of the globe. And even with Pope Francis in the Vatican, thousands of people the world over constantly plot how best to wreak death and destruction. So instead of focusing on the specifics of Francis’ policies, let’s instead tackle a more manageable goal: Tomorrow and each day after, let’s all do one thing for our fellow man that we didn’t do the day before.

Who knows? A better world might just be on the horizon.

jrunyan@midatlanticmedia.com