2010 Jew-West Regional Conference 2010 by Sam Ruben

“These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.” This opening passage from Thomas Paine’s The Crisis rings truer for me now than ever before in my lifetime, not its call to war but its call to revolution. As one looks about these days it seems as if there is little but strife, conflict and suffering the world over. Extreme weather resulting from climate change, suicide bombings, oil spills, sectarian violence, hunger, unemployment, death from preventable diseases; the list seems to go on and on. Our global society is at the brink of collapse, we are faced with the need to change our ways or spiral ever deeper into turmoil. The task before us is not an easy one, as the interests that promote the status quo are deeply entrenched and seemingly unbeatable, the system so skewed in their favor that at times it seems futile to even begin to try and change things. But change things we must.

Throughout history Jews, and particularly Secular Humanistic Jews, have been on the forefront of progressive movements for social change. Whether it is the fight for safe working conditions and fair wages; women’s equality and reproductive rights; or any of the many facets to the struggle for true social justice, our history is intimately intertwined with these struggles. I’m willing to bet that there are many in this room today that have been or are involved with these movements and who have even been leaders in them.

Our connection to this history and the never ending quest for equality runs deep; indeed, by its very nature, humanism requires that we recognize our connection to the rest of humanity, no matter their creed, location, race or economic status. And as Jews our history of persecution has tasked us with working so that no one faces the hardships we have as a people.

We learn these lessons from an early age. They take the form of songs sung and stories told during the holidays; classes taught in Sunday school; papers researched and written and the community service performed for bar and bat mitzvah’s; to be a Secular Humanistic Jew is to carry this connection to humanity and our history with us wherever we go.

With the world facing dire straits and the gap between the haves and have nots widening daily, we must continue this legacy, we must be the change we wish to see in the world. For if Secular Humanistic Jews, who have been raised with this struggle as a part of our identity, are not willing to carry forward this fight, then we have no right to expect others to.

I’m not saying I think each and every one of you will leave this conference and immediately become social justice crusaders, I realize that’s simply impractical and not everyone feels comfortable taking such public stands. What I do ask is that you think about the little things in life, the clothes you buys, where your food comes from, the companies that you support through your purchases, and that you make your decisions with intentionality.

I ask that you educate yourselves about these issues and begin to understand how seemingly inconsequential decisions, such as what brand of clothes or food you buy, can unknowingly support practices and companies that damage the earth or exploit workers. Each of us must do our part to leave this world a better place than when we found it, the people and traditions that we are connected to demand that we at least try.