As Martin Luther King ,Jr. Day approaches, I can’t help but reflect on this past year – specifically the last three months of strife and stress that our employees have felt since the onset of the Israel-Hamas war. Each year, the Friday before MLK Day, we plan a day of service for our staff members to strengthen the bonds of friendship, comradery, and compassion for each other, while supporting the work of multiple community non-profits.
As I reflect on what we can learn from Martin Luther King in the midst of today’s world, I am proud of our organization for creating opportunities to come together in service to others. It affirms our passion for working in the non-profit sector, strengthens our collegial relationships, and serves as a stark reminder of the values our organization embraces: the value of human life, fostering a sense of community, and repairing our world.
As I write this piece, in the midst of a war that has affected each of us in profound and vastly different ways, I must acknowledge how deeply challenging it has been to hold tightly to our values as a Jewish organization. We live in an extremely troubled world, one that is ravaged by contagious illness, limited access to healthcare (mental and otherwise) for many, political polarization, sexual assault, and wars leading to loss of life. While I don’t intend to minimize what came before, there’s no question that the past four years have been fraught with even deeper divisiveness and isolation – as many struggle to even stay in the same room, let alone share the causes of their emotional distress. But in the words of Martin Luther King, “People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.”
JFCS has always, and will continue to, serve everyone in our community – regardless of gender, race, socioeconomic status, or creed. Because at our core, we believe there is nothing more precious or sacred than a human life. This is our common thread. At the same time, what that means to each of us is different and personal based on our own life experiences and values.
As the CEO of this long-standing and accomplished organization, I am keenly aware of the quiet turbulence that has existed amongst our staff over the past three months. We work alongside each other while sharing very different views of this most current tragedy in our world.
As Martin Luther King, Jr. Day approaches, I am personally tapping into this powerful leader’s values to connect each individual in our organization. King sought equality and human rights – not just for African Americans but for all victims of injustice, something that social workers commit to as they enter the profession. King also stood for integrity, service before self, excellence in all that we do, and compassion for all. How fitting then to reflect on King’s legacy as those who work for our organization grapple with the tragedies that war brings along with our desire for peace. Difference of opinion and difference of life experience will always be a part of our collective reality as professionals. Yet how we draw upon our sense of compassion for one another in the midst of these differences is the true work. Our task is not to convince each other of who is right and wrong, but to find ways to value each other’s experiences and truths to eliminate hate in our world.
May the memory of Martin Luther King Jr. forever serve as an inspiration towards this goal.