I'm waiting in a long line at Ben Gurion airport to go through security before my flight home to New York City. The young woman who questions me asks why I came to Israel. I respond: "Tzedakah - charity work." I explain that my foundation, Jewish Helping Hands, has several projects in Israel helping Ethiopian immigrants, refugees, and children in need. She hands me her contact information. Why? She wants to join me on my journey.
My hope is that this book will transit some of my passion and insights to a wider audience, enabling others to see the positive impact they can make on their communities and on the world as a whole. Each of us has something unique and invaluable to offer once we see ourselves as can-do problem solvers and life enhancers.
This book has a unique structure, reflecting my sense of the nature of my spiritual journey. While it may seem to others that I have accomplished all of this on my own, the truth is that that was never the case. Others were with me all along the way. So, it is most fitting that there are responders to each of the chapters.
They include lawyers, therapists and rabbis, an anthropologist, a poet, ministers, Israelis, and a Rwandan. Their essays are other gateways for the readers to engage with my writing as well.
The book is divided into three sections: Life Lessons, Congregational Life, and Social Action.
Life Lessons contains some of the stories of my and my family's life: where we personally draw the line ethically, and how we can meet our family members' needs in creative and supportive ways. It sets the stage for the later chapters by showing how we can hear G-d's voice in unexpected places and can find G-d's presence among the poor. Each chapter opens our hearts to the images of G-d all around us and prods us to respond in more caring and sensitive ways.
Congregational Life shares some of the special ways I helped mold my synagogue community so it would reflect our deepest religious values. We learned to ask the question "How Can We Help You?", created an Ethics Committee, and pooled our resources in a Tzedakah (Charity) Collective. We became a true extended family, with a model of community that other organizations, Jewish and non-Jewish, might emulate.
Finally, Social Action describes some of our more imaginative helping projects. There were trips to the FSU, Israel, Rwanda, and Ukraine, homes rededicated after fires, Ethiopian immigrants helped to acculturate to Israel, poor new mothers given life-saving protein, and so much more.
The message is clear: if we could do it, so can you. There is a way to find your caring specialty, the mitzvah "tattooed on your forehead," what you are personally expected to do to improve the world. Once you've found it, perhaps through this book, there will be no holding you back.
Who will be drawn to read this book and the stories of my spiritual journey? There will be family members and therapists, leaders of nonprofits and other organizations, and people of good will who are eager to give back. Book clubs will find it a source of animated discussions. Anyone seeking the special blessings that living a life of goodness can bring will find a way to that life in these pages.
--Rabbi Joel E. Soffin