By Rabbi Alex Lazarus-Klein
On a recent vacation to the Midwest, my family and I made a stop at Cedar Point, a large amusement park outside of Columbus, Ohio. As soon as we entered the park, we noticed several people wearing bright blue t-shirts emblazoned with the words, “We are family”.
At first we assumed it was some sort of family reunion. But, over the course of the day we noticed more and more blue shirts. Half of the attendees in the park seemed to have one. There was no way they could be from just one family alone. It turns out, the shirts were a gift from the Lebron James Foundation. The famous basketball star had brought the entire school he funds in Akron, Ohio out to Cedar Point.
Family, as it turns out, is a much more expansive term than just our own. A. J. Jacobs, in his book It’s All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World’s Family Tree, outlines just how close we are as a species. He writes: “… if you go back far enough everyone is a blood cousin. Humans are a startlingly close-knit species. By some estimates we share 99.99 percent of our DNA with one another. The farthest cousin you have on earth isn’t so far off. According to some scientists, you are at most seventeenth cousins with all other humans.”
In this week’s Torah portion, Re’eh, we find one of the rarest of Biblical pronouns: “We” or in Hebrew “Anachnu”. Outside of a bunch of citations in Genesis, there are only a handful of direct uses in all the rest of the Torah. One of them is here in Deuteronomy 12:9 which reads: “You shall not act at all as We/Anachnu now act here, each of us as we please.” The power of these two English letters and five Hebrew letters is immense. First, it means Moses is taking accountability for his own actions, an extremely meaningful gesture for any leader. But, it also means that this bedraggled group of former slaves in now one cohesive group.
Through my work with Congregation Shir Shalom and Jewish Communal Relations Council, I spend a lot of my time building community. To function fully as a group, we need to see one another as family. Not just as fellow Jews, but as human beings engaged in making our local and global world stronger.
When we came together to support Buffalo’s Eastside after the horrendous May 14th attack, we did so as family. When our entire Chautauqua community came together after the attack on Salman Rushdie two weeks ago on August 12th, we did so as family. When our Jewish Family Services recently welcomed a refugee family from Ukraine, we did so as family. When all of our various synagogues and agencies come together through our Buffalo Jewish Federation, we do so as family.
In Buffalo, we often joke about everyone being related to one another. It turns out we really are. How proud I am to be part of the amazing, diverse group that we call our wonderful Jewish Buffalo Family.
Alex Lazarus-Klein is the Rabbi of Congregation Shir Shalom in Williamsville and serves as Rabbinic Consultant with the Buffalo Jewish Community Relations Council.