No matter how you practice Judaism, one thing is certain—you can change the world. Not only can you find wisdom in the Torah, but you can follow the leaders, who made a difference in society and for those around them. Jews have a special calling in their lives they are not to hide it from others. Call it the light that God gives us. God said in Genesis "Let there be light." He separated the light from darkness for a reason. “God saw that the light was good, so God separated the light from the darkness. And it was evening, and it was morning, one day.” This light has can be used to change society, spread a positive message and to expel the darkness of human suffering, and to make a difference. God would not had opened with these words, if it was not important to have the distinction of light and dark without a purpose. He's inviting us to take part. The question is, are we listening?
Do you know what hineini means? Hineini is an ancient Hebrew phrase that means “Here I am.” It is a call by God sometimes within silence to walk out in faith to make a difference. It can be a feeling or a nudge to act on something that you feel is wrong, or where there is injustice. This is a call, a light, within you that needs to be activated. What has been on your heart, do you feel God calling you to contribute your talents, or your time to the world? We hope the following people will help you respond and help you become a light so you may declare: “Here I am” to make a difference. Here 6 Jewish leaders who answered the call in their lives. May you become inspired as well.
Ze’ev Jabotinsky was an author, poet, and a soldier. He was one of the founders of Zionism as we know it today. The founder of the Jewish Self-Defense Organization guided many leaders (first Prime Minister of Israel David Ben-Gurion) to be a light for their people. In this instance, it was for the Jews to have their own homeland. Jabotinsky taught that unity was key in protecting people and to have a Jewish nation. “I devote my life to the rebirth of the Jewish State, with a Jewish majority, on both sides of the Jordan,” he wrote. This was not without sacrifice. He gave up his dreams of being a journalist and a person already assimilated in society. Yet, he wanted the Jews to have their homeland and freedoms. He created the first modern Jewish army.
Known as the “Uprising of the 20,000,” Lemlich called for a massive strike against the New York's garment industry. On Nov. 22nd in 1909 she roused fellow working women to stand up against the deplorable conditions a the Gotham shirtwaist factory, where “women worked 11 hours a day, six days a week, for starting wages of $3 a week,” said Lemlich who was arrested 17 times. She faced police and mobsters hired by the factory to stop her. The strike lasted two months and started a movement that ended up saving people’s lives. We can credit her with safety regulations in the workplace.
He knew one day that there would be deniers of the Holocaust. Elie Wiesel made it his mission to make sure the world does not forget what happened to the Jewish people. He said he worked to keep the memory alive for those who won’t forget. There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest. “I have tried to keep memory alive. I have tried to fight those who would forget,” he said. In 1986, Wiesel was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and considered the messenger for mankind. If we didn’t have people like Wiesel, where would we be? He felt compelled to plant seed to make sure we never forget the facts of that terrible time in world history.
The President of American Jewish World Service is a visionary and a global ambassador. Ruth Messinger has mobilized faith-based communities along with leading rabbis through the U.S. to help promote human rights. The amount of money she has helped gross for charity is something special and extraordinary. Messinger has raised $270 million for human rights, including raising money to end the genocide in Darfur. Her tireless work has been applauded by the Jewish community where 5 major American rabbinical seminaries have given her honorary degrees. Messinger works for the State Department’s Religion and Foreign Policy Working Group, and is a member of the World Bank’s Moral Imperative working group, which fights poverty.
You might have never heard of the Green Restaurant Association (GRA), but it's transforming the restaurant industry by making it more environmentally friendly. It was a novel concept said founder Michael Oshman, who founded the nonprofit in 1990. Restaurants can become environmentally sustainable in several key areas in water, in energy, in food waste, and in chemical disposal. It took time to root, but restaurant owners started taking an interest and now there are over 40 states that have green restaurants in the U.S. “Back then, having a green business was a novel concept, but thankfully, it's part of our culture now,” Oshman said according Presentense.org. GRA operates in the U.S. and in Canada.
We can’t forget Moses on our list. When Moses was 3 months old his mother put him in a basket on the Nile River to save his life as Pharaoh wanted all Jewish males to be killed. However, Pharaoh’s daughter found and adopted him where he lived with the family. However, he murdered an Egyptian guard after a Hebrew slave was beaten, and was sent away. Moses was commanded by God to help the Jews escape from the clutches of Egypt, and he lost everything. Yet, he would lead the Hebrews to the Promised Land and to freedom. The Jews were slaves of Pharaoh and crossed the Red Sea, but wondered for 40 years. In the process of this journey, God gave Mosses the 10 Commandments. Moses was also responsible for writing the Torah, and is one of the most important figures in Jewish history for his faith in God and for the call on his life.
You might not be a protester, be a leader in the military, or raise millions of dollars for humanity, but you can make a difference by following your conviction and heeding the call to do something positive in the world. You can practice hineini and say to the Lord “Here I am."