This morning’s New York Times included Andrew Ross Sorkin’s fascinating take on the upcoming World Economic Forum meeting held annually in Davos, Switzerland. Delving into the real costs of attending what might be thought of as a festival of hobnobbing for the already rich and famous, and those who want to be – costs which can easily top $100,000.00, the article included reflections by attendees which struck me as tragic, instructive and highly reminiscent of similar conversations I have had with people about their relationship to Judaism and to Jewish institutions.
As one attendee, the author David Rothkopf, recently wrote on his blog, “The entire endeavor is fading for several reasons, all associated with the inadequacy of Davos as a networking forum.”
He explained, “As Steve Case, founder of AOL, once told me while standing at the bar in the middle of the hubbub of the main conference center: ‘You always feel like you are in the wrong place in Davos, like there is some better meeting going on somewhere in one of the hotels that you really ought to be at. Like the real Davos is happening in secret somewhere.’”
Case’s observation is about much more than “the inadequacy of Davos as a networking forum”. It’s about the personal feelings of inadequacy of those attending, people who, as Case observes, like they should always be where the “real” action is. That is actually tragic.
Imagine going through life feeling that the important things are always happening, by definition, where you are not. I think that is how many people feel about being Jewish – that they are somehow inadequate and that the “real Jewish” is happening somewhere else. That too is tragic, not to mention false.
While it may be true for Davos, though I doubt it, it’s not true for Jewish. Jewish is wherever Jews declare it to be. In truth, it’s not only Jews who have a vote on that matter but exploring that deserves its own post on the role of non-Jews in determining where and what Jewish is. For now, let’s stick with the Jewish vote.
I appreciate that for the Davos crowd, that creeping sense that it is always better, more authentic, etc. somewhere else, may be related to the ambition and success which many of them have achieved. It’s still kind of sick, but I can see, especially as a fairly ambitious person, how that sickness can be useful. But in Jewish, it’s just sick.
There are so many stories which demonstrate the wisdom and importance of embracing the authenticity of where each of us is. From God reaching Ishmael “where he is” in Genesis to Moses being told that the place where he stands, not only where God’s burning bush is planted, is holy ground, and so many more. But it’s not about the stories, it’s about us. And one way to get to that place of experiencing our own authenticity lies in the choices we make.
Steve Case and most of the other people who go to Davos, at least according to the article, go to Davos to accomplish something not related to being in Davos – to network, to impress, etc. and that messes them up. Davos becomes a tool rather than an end in and of itself. While that may be necessary in business, it has no place in Judaism or any other spiritual path.
Rather than people doing things or attending institutions in order to make themselves Jewish or more Jewish, try this instead: do those things which are expressions of what you mean by Jewish. Do things, whether it’s praying or hiking, visiting Israel or India, not as means, but as ends in and of themselves. Do that long enough, and you too will find yourself standing on the holiest of ground – your own.