2003 Creating & Sharing Jewish Outlooks by Jodi Goldfinger
Good morning everyone. I'm glad to see many of you are awake, even some people under the age of 18! For those of you who don't know me, my name is Jodi Goldfinger. I live in the suburbs of Toronto, and I promise you I'm feeling fine and don't have SARS. This is my 11th conference. Although for the first few years if I wasn't still asleep during the keynote, I definitely SLEPT through the keynote. But for the last several years I've actually been awake and really enjoyed them. Many of them have even been quite memorable and inspiring, all of them written by intelligent people, who have lots of interesting things to say. So when I was asked to do the keynote at the conference last year, I was a little bit hesitant, and it took me a while to accept the offer. Can I actually come up with more than one minute of something interesting to talk about on whatever topic they deem worthy? Now if you asked me to inspire people by showing them how to make something pretty out of a paper towel roll, a bit of newspaper, and some paint, I'd say yes in an instant. But this all just seemed a little bit more intense than what I was used to, and you can't plagiarize a keynote it off the Internet. But I started to get the feeling that just hanging out at the conference wasn't going to get me anywhere, or push me to learn and grow as a person or a Secular Humanistic Jew. It was time to give back to a community that has given me so much. So I took on the responsibility and said yes. Well saying yes was the easy part, the actual writing of the keynote was a different story. I haven't written anything since my grade 6 speech. After hearing what the topic was, Creating and Sharing Jewish Outlooks, or C-S-J-O, I was slightly confused. So, I sat in my room for days trying to figure out what a Jewish Outlook is. Is it a belief system, or a single idea or thought, or is it an action, or behaviour? To be honest I'm still trying to figure it out. What I think am sure of, is that we already have outlooks. That's what makes an organization come together-having these similar ideas, and belief system and acting on them.
We not only have outlooks as an organization or community, but as individuals too. Our outlooks work on a hierarchy in a similar fashion to Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Often outlooks in different groups will overlap or impact on each other. I feel the order is as follows. First and foremost is you yourself. We have outlooks regarding personal responsibility, personal growth, the search for persona happiness, and making a personal difference in the world. These are the most important ones, because this is our foundation as individuals. These are what define who we are, and what helps to shape the rest of our outlooks. Second, are those outlooks about our relationships with our families and our partners. Next we have our group or community outlooks. As humans we have a natural herding instinct. We have a tendency to group with people that are increasingly similar to us. For us, our Secular Humanistic Jewish communities fall into this group or community category of outlooks. Here we can express our Jewish heritage, creativity, passion and joy in ways that have integrity for us. The fourth category, is our connection to all Humanity. These outlooks have to do with human survival and interrelationships. The last level is the way in which we relate to and understand the natural world. Plants, animals, the environment, and the universe including energy, matter, space and time. The interesting thing about this hierarchy is that within it our outlooks are constantly shifting and changing, depending on our place in our life, and on education, or on our environment, or peers, or even on our mood. As we learn and grow, our outlooks expand and change.
So the question is as a community how do we create an outlook when it's already there? Isn't it kind of like energy, which can't be created or destroyed, just change forms? Or is an outlook more like a game of broken telephone? Where one person decides what the truth is or what they want it to be, and they share it with those people around them, who in turn share it with their buddies, and so on. Meanwhile everyone who hears this truth interprets it differently, and when they share it, they change it ever so slightly and add in a bit of their own pizzazz. So it's created, and shuffled around, and altered, even sometimes to the point that it's almost unrecognizable, but it's still stems from the same point.
Now here is my personal issue. I need to know everything. No exceptions. I will never understand something, until I know its story. Where it started, how it got to its current state, and why it's important to look at. Be it geography, or science, or religion, I am by nature an extremely curious person, and need to question everything. And then I got to thinking. So here is this Jewish outlook, who's meaning we are unsure of at this point, and we know that it's been changed and altered to the current state. So now the plan is to get back to the original message in broken telephone, or the outlook and figure out what it was. So I took a look at the torah writings and ideas of other Jews, and the story representing our first outlook is the one of this perfect paradise, or the Garden of Eden. The first people were put there as the gardeners. Their job was to keep the garden beautiful for themselves, their children, and their children's children. There they could laugh, and run and play, and be shiny happy people.
So it doesn't seem like such a far stretch in the game of broken telephone, to get to the current state of what I view as one of our secular humanistic outlooks. We have to do what we can to keep this world beautiful, so our great to the power of a million, grand children, can have a world to laugh and run and play in.
As a humanist, I try to be the best person I can possibly be. And each day I try to push those limits even further to stretch that 'possibly be' to become a broader range of 'best person'. As a secularist, I live my life as if there is no one, or nothing watching over me, and there is no plan that I must follow. The only plan that I have is to be responsible not only for myself but for others, because as long as there is injustice anywhere, I'm not finished here. Part of my responsibility is to push myself to make this world a better place by sharing my humanistic outlook, and helping every person I come in contact with become the 'best person' they can 'possibly be'.
This humanistic outlook, doesn't really seem to be specifically Jewish at all. This is a common way that we as humans should be living. We all have the same ultimate goal don't we? We all just want to lead happy and healthy lives, and wish the same for others.
So how does this relate to us as Jews? Well, with whom are we sharing this outlook? Are we sharing our outlook with other Jews or with the world? Now it's important to share our outlook with the rest of the non-Jewish world, because it helps to gain tolerance of Judaism, but everybody seems to have the same focus. Everyone is so intent on sharing their outlooks with the world. There are Jews in our own backyards, who don't even know we exist, and if they do, what do they know about us? We need to be known for who we are and what we actually believe, not by distortions created by people who don't even know us. Our reputation should be based on our actions because they speak the loudest. People view us by what we do, and therefor we need to be consistent in what we are doing. The way we live our lives become the message of Secular Humanistic Judaism.
So what are the ways that we share this outlook? We've taken on the action of joining a group to strengthen our voice. But is that enough? The group is just a bunch of people until something worthwhile is put into action. We go to these workshops that give us ways to share our outlooks with our communities at home, and the people in our society, but how much of the information that we gather here do we actually put to use? How often do we shout out to the media, taking action politically or otherwise on issues that underlie our life philosophies? Are we socially active enough? How often do we make our presence known in the other Jewish communities? Not often enough, because there are still Jews out there who don't even know we exist. Many Jews haven't found a comfortable place in Judaism, and it is these people that can benefit most from us sharing our outlooks.
I'm an entrepreneur. Always have been. My parents told me stories, about how I would take all those free catalogues you get in the mail, and go door to door selling them, when I was barely old enough to walk. So let's turn this sharing our Jewish outlook into advertising. I think we should make a conscious effort this year to share our outlooks with, say 3 people whom we think would be interested. There are about 75-100 people here. We could reach approximately 225-300 new people that have never heard of us before, that will now know we exist. That's not to say we're gonna be up 300 new members next year, but what if each of those 300 people knew one other person that they felt would be interested in our organizations outlooks. That's 600 people over the next year that would now know we exist.
We need to talk to the world community and act within that community. We need to talk to every Jew we meet, not only Secular Humanistic Jews. It's really important for us to make sure that the Jewish community is aware of our outlooks and existence. Right now, we're still whispering and we are not heard. We need to be there, voicing our opinions, and insisting that our voice be included in the "Jewish Voice". CSJO needs to be represented. We need to act within the Jewish community. We cannot expect to make an impact in the Jewish world if we don't participate in it. It is time to stop whispering for fear that other Jews might not like our message. It is time to stop being invisible. Our secular humanistic ideas and ideals are surely needed in our world today. We have a responsibility to share them in voice and in action. Let us do so with purpose and passion. If not now, when?