Carrying On After The Golden Age

Living after the Civil Rights Movement, we, like the children of Jacob, have the opportunity to carry the ideals of previous generations into the future.

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It's all coming to an end. That must have been Jacob's thought as his life and the book of Genesis drew to a close. In Egypt, far from the land of God's promises. Wondering about his children and their future. Would they preserve the covenant passed down since his grandparents, Abraham and Sarah? Which of his children could be the one who would take hold of the torch? Jacob knew very well that with his children, things would now be different--not Joseph, not Reuben, not Judah, none of them individually would be in their generation what Jacob had been in his--the one.

Yearning for Idealism

A golden age was coming to an end, and all Jacob knew for certain was that the future of a unique set of values and principles would be entrusted to the likes of Menasheh and Ephraim, his very Egyptian grandchildren, whom he was about to bless. 

I have often felt as though I missed the golden age of civil rights and social justice in America. I was born too late to march in Washington or Selma, never heard Dr. King speak in person. I arrived at the Jewish Theological Seminary years after Heschel had died. Sometimes, I imagine myself as a college student deciding to head to Mississippi for Freedom Summer. At least, that's how I like to see myself, risking my life for ideals in a struggle where the right side won and it's there in the history books for all to see.

Where is today's Freedom Summer? Where would I go to sign up for the cause that will go down in history? What could I do today as dramatic and life-threatening as Mississippi?

A Plethora of Causes

Today, there is no single cause to rivet our attention. Environment, globalization, voting rights, equality in education, economic justice, racism; each seems like its own world sometimes. There is no central address, and no moral and spiritual leader who is the voice for our age. Often the causes feel more like organizations than ideals sparkling in purity.

We live after the golden age, apparently. But rather than moan, we have to find a perspective, and a way to act.

Making Change

Jacob and his children teach me that the end of a golden age does not mean the end of ideals. Golden ages are important, and they inspire--but they are the exceptional periods. Genesis, after all, is only one of the five books of the Torah.

The rest of the Torah tells of life lived after the first great ones, and in fact much of the remaining story centers on a generation once more removed, not only from the patriarchs and matriarchs but from the Exodus from Egypt, the great liberation experience.

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Rabbi Jonathan Spira-Savett

Rabbi Jonathan Spira-Savett is the founder and director of MACHAR, a national project in the United States involving Jewish youth in service that promotes self-sufficiency and economic empowerment and in study of Jewish and American "texts" on wealth, success, and social responsibility.