Thoughtful discussion needed from the community


Last weekend I was asked to give a D’var Torah by the kind members of Brith Sholom Kneseth Israel congregation. The parshah was Noach, and I was asked to talk about the relationship of this portion to modern environmentalism.

The basic thrust of the D’var related to elements of the debate rabbis have had for centuries concerning Noah. Sure, he follows God’s orders to the letter in his ark preparation and animal gathering. But he expresses no outrage about the destruction of the world that precedes the flood.

Noah’s obeisance has been interpreted by some as troubling: Though he was described in the Torah as a righteous man in his time, it seems that Noah’s brand of righteousness is a narrowly proscribed one, doing only what God specifically asks of him. There’s nary a suggestion that he is capable of using that most precious of God’s gifts — free will — to assert himself regarding the impending doom of all humankind.

It is in this context that I’ve contemplated Barry Rosenberg’s piece on the thriving of the St. Louis Jewish community. As past weeks’ respondents have noted (see the entire series at, Rosenberg is to be commended for raising the issues critical to our future success.

Rosenberg outlines nine areas of concern that emanate from four key goals. It’s apparent from the responses so far that certain of these areas — particularly encouraging young Jewish adults to stay in or come to St. Louis — resonate more than others with our analysts to date, who comprise rabbis and lay Jewish and community professionals.

If you read Rosenberg’s piece and the responses, then you realize that this is not a mere hypothetical exercise. If the desired outcome is ultimately to match scarce human and financial resources to key priorities, then we need to have a hardcore community debate about those things we deem most critical to our prosperity.

It is easy for us in the communications business to encourage and even facilitate the debate, but to do so is no guarantee of success. You as community members represent the fulcrum that will push the dialogue in a constructive manner. Maybe the initial stages will feel uncomfortable, but I am not aware of any successful decision-making process that didn’t struggle through the voicing of various opinions.

Perhaps you believe your voice will make no difference. Perhaps you’re jaded in your conception that leaders or funders have guided the agenda for so long that your opinion will be ignored. Perhaps you are a member of a subgroup of the Jewish community that has been the focus of criticism from others within this same community, and you have “checked out” on participation.

My response to all of these concerns falls within the prescription of tough love:

Get over it, jump in and tell us what you think.

Believe me, I understand that we as a community haven’t always handled our discussions in the most respectful way. We see that reflected sometimes in the harsh language of letters to this publication.

But as we’ve noted in these pages previously, the only path to achdut (unity) is through dialogue and fair debate. Otherwise, we will by our inaction allow the path to be defined by a small number of folks who have, through resources, committed involvement or other means of influence, guided the process in the past.

That won’t pass muster this time. Rosenberg isn’t answering the questions, he’s posing them. If he, in conjunction with his lay Federation leadership, is asked without input to decide which of these nine areas gets the gelt and the attention, then we only have ourselves to blame if the roads taken or results reached are inadequate.

If you allow Rosenberg to both ask and answer the questions, then you haven’t fulfilled the responsibility that accompanies free will. And our community will be diminished by your lack of involvement.

Our St. Louis Jewish community will only be as strong as the collective wisdom, energy and resources that are invested in it by all of you. It’s your time to speak and speak loudly. Don’t ignore your chance.

Larry Levin is Publisher/CEO of the St. Louis Jewish Light.