Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
It’s Monday evening, July 25, and I’m watching the Democratic National Convention. Senator Cory Booker, a dynamic and powerful speaker from my state’s neighbor, New Jersey, is just finishing his speech. Near the beginning of his speech, he said he wanted to share an African saying, which goes: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” I’d never heard that before, and I thought it was amazing. (It may not actually be an African proverb, but it still moved me.) It applies in so many ways.
Our nation is a representative democracy (not a direct democracy) with built-in checks and balances. When President Obama was running the first time, with the slogan, “Yes we can!” he promised a lot of change, fast. A lot of Americans who had never voted were inspired and got involved. I worried at the time that they would be disillusioned when they realized that the president of the United States can’t do all that much on his or her own, because Congress is the only body that can pass laws. President Obama got a lot done, but there was a lot he couldn’t do, because of Congress. Our system is designed not to be able to go too fast. Everyone has to work together so that we can move forward at a more deliberative pace, and ideally so that nothing gets out of control and we can go far as a stable country.
I get impatient sometimes, not just on the national level, but on the level of my synagogue community. There too, it’s hard to get anything done quickly. Nearly everyone involved is a volunteer, valiantly working to fit in synagogue tasks around full-time jobs, family, and other other obligations. Many decisions must be discussed and approved by the board of trustees, which meets monthly. I’m not the only one who sometimes—often, even—wish we could move forward more quickly. But it matters that as many community members as possible feel invested in what we’re doing. It matters that I, as the rabbi (or a prominent congregant or two), don’t do everything myself, because that isn’t community. While I could move forward more quickly alone, perhaps, if I can temper my impatience, the community is more sustainable if we are all going forward together, even if we do so more slowly.
The saying Senator Booker quoted is difficult, not just because of our slow national or local progress. Some issues are so painful that it’s hard to stay together, because it feels essential to change them fast. When the news every day names more victims of gun violence; when there are more and more black men killed by police; when police too are being gunned down; when inequality is growing and good news seems scarce; how can we not want fast change? The saying seems to imply that you can’t go fast together, but it doesn’t say so. Yes, you can go fastest alone, but when you’re trying to change a culture, alone you can’t do it. No one can. But perhaps, if we dedicate ourselves to being together, to really listening to each other, to recognizing that all of us have part of the truth and none of us has all of it, we can not only go far together; we can also pick up the pace. May we resist the forces that want to pull us apart, and may we work together for far-reaching progress.