By Rabbi Alex Lazarus-Klein
Last week, over 20 of Buffalo’s most dynamic Civic Leaders met with Talya Levanon, the director of the Israel Trauma Coalition, at a quiet restaurant in the Yemin Moshe section of Jerusalem. She told us her organization was set to send a delegation of helpers off to Turkey to assist with the aftermath of the earthquake. This is in addition to efforts in Ukraine and a dozen other spots in the world.
During the question and answer session after her presentation, Buffalo’s poet laureate Jillian Hanesworth asked for Talya’s advice on how to avoid burnout with so many heartbreaking situations. She spoke about caring for one another and creating good systems to check in. But, the number one way to prevent burnout, she shared, is our belief in the mission itself.
When we believe in what we are doing it allows us to overcome incredible obstacles. Our ancestors in the Torah understood this well. This Shabbat as we begin to read about the building of the tabernacle in Parashat Terumah, a process that will take all the way to the end of Exodus. We are all told everyone should contribute whose heart compels them to do so. The Hebrew for “heart compels” is yidbenu libo. The Slonimer rebbe wrote that a person must not only contribute their possessions, but their heart as well.
By giving our hearts, we increase our level of resilience, not lessen it. Over the course of our eight days in Israel, our civic leaders learned from countless individuals who give their whole heart to the work they do in the world. People like Rachel Korazin, the daughter of Holocaust survivors who passionately reframed their story, Muhammad Darwshe, the director of Givat Haviva, who spends every day working toward a shared society between Arabs and Jews, and the team at Roots in the West Bank who cross work to bring dialogue between settlers and their Arab neighbors. We also were invited to eat with leaders of our Buffalo Partnership with the Western Galilee and learn from them in their homes. While at the Partnership Center we saw the tree planted in memory of Leslie Shuman Kramer z”l, our former Buffalo Federation president most responsible for our partnership, and one who understood full well the importance of passion in our daily lives.
Most importantly, were the members of our group themselves. People like Jillian Hanesworth, Williamsville School Superintendent, Dr. Darren Brown-Hall, Clarence School Superintendent, Matt Frahm, the director of the National Federation of Just Communities, Rene Petties-Jones, Timothy Sember, the VP of missions for Troicare College, Assemblywoman Karen McMahon, Sister Margaret Carney, Molly Carr of Jewish Family Services, Rabbi Adam Scheldt of Hospice Buffalo, Rev. Todd Leach from Westminster Presbyterian, SUNY trustee, Eunice Lewin, Thomas Kim, the CEO of Community Action Project, Judge Craig Hannah, Leah Halton-Pope, the senior advisor to Crystal People-Stokes, our JCRC team, Mara Koven-Gelman, Deborah Goldman, and myself, along with Mara’s husband Cantor Irwin Gelman, and our Federation CEO, Rob Goldberg. The twenty-seven participants on the trip brought their whole heart to it, immersing themselves in the intricacies of Israeli society. I left last week feeling fully inspired and ready to yidbenu libo, donate my whole heart to the great project of creating a holy communal tabernacle in Buffalo for God to dwell within.
Rabbi Alex Lazarus-Klein is the spiritual leader at Congregation Shir Shalom in Williamsville, NY.