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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2018 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


July 13, 2018  RSS feed

Text: T T T

Look at me!

Emilie Socash

I’m taking a class this summer entitled “Building Resilience in Communities After Trauma,” which focuses on the unique leadership roles required to do just that. The most interesting part of the class thus far is that so much about resilience and disaster response is about all that comes before the incident happens. Regardless of whether it is a natural disaster, political unrest, a terrorist attack, or an unpredictable tragedy, it’s the relationalism at play in the lead-up that can accurately predict how effectively the community will adapt to change and move forward.

Relationalism is a lens through which we can consider how things relate to or are a function of other things, and makes something of an inanimate argument for nature versus nurture. Relationalism recognizes that we all have interpretive horizons from which we see things, and also that there exist invisible mechanisms that happens between these things, drawing all together into this thing we call “community.”

In the class readings, the concept of “Ubuntu” is described as an originating concept of interpersonal relationalism: it’s an African term to express the idea that a person is a person only through another person. In so many ways, ubuntu is at play in Jewish relationalism too.

My husband, Shane, and I recently had dinner with a (non-Jewish) couple we’ve been friends with for years. They no longer live in Pinellas, and are looking to sell their home in St. Pete, and as such asked for a realtor recommendation. I referred them to a professional in the Jewish community, noting that I had never worked with her personally but had heard good things about her work.

They went forward with this recommendation, working with her from a distance, and on the day of our dinner, they had finally met her in person. She was visiting the soon-to-be-listed property, and our friends apologized for the state of the house: their two young sons’ toys peppered the floors, packing was still to be done, touch-up construction projects were in mid-stream.

The realtor took Susie by the shoulders and said, “Look at me. Look at me. This is your life. This is how it should look. Everything’s fine.”

It was an interaction that affected both of them enough for them to tell us separately of the details.

“She’s the Jewish mother I never had!” Joe said. “I have never had anyone say that to me – ‘Look at me!’ – and I believed her. This is how it should be, and everything will be fine!” Susie said.

Ubuntu at its best: they felt seen and understood – and felt like real people – through this near-stranger’s remarks.

* * *

An Instagram profile I enjoy following is the account run by the Israel Defense Forces. It’s usually filled with handsome and adorable young soldiers doing what the IDF does: training exercises, wishing me a Shabbat Shalom, graduating, and guarding. From time to time, a soldier named “Hila” will pop up (and I kvell), or one soldier will propose to another he met in basic training.

Earlier this month, a bill went to committee in Israel that caught my eye, under catchy headlines noting that filming of the IDF would be forbidden and thus potentially taking away #IDF on Instagram. The bill was proposed by MK Robert Ilatov of the Yisrael Beytenu party, and advanced from committee to Knesset. The bill as described by Ilatov would outlaw and make punishable by law not just the filming of defense forces but filming for the purpose of slandering them. The debate that this seemingly tiny bill sparked is fascinating: one side argues for a free and uninhibited media provision (including the ability to criticize), the other argues that the problem isn’t with the filming but in the actions being captured (particularly those at the borders).

Israeli media reported on the debate widely, and shared that the bill advanced by a close margin on June 20, and continued argument ensued to prevent anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian groups from filming specifically to slander and undermine morale. Yet soon, the underlying truth about this bill emerged, and its underpinnings and rationale are nothing short of a fascinating reflection of the darker side of ubuntu.

It was all a farce. A charade played out, even if briefly, on a locally macro stage. It turns out that the bill was proposed by Ilatov as a means to gain visibility for his party and himself, not on a matter that actually mattered to him, but as a means of positioning for future legislation. The heated debates, the spotty reporting on committee progress, were all part of what turned out to be a charade. (The bill that passed committee actually gutted the original language and merely upped penalties for obstructing an IDF soldier.)

Yet Ilatov was only made real in the public lens through another person – the reporter, the reader, or even me as one making commentary. The issue of filming IDF soldiers, and the proposal of a bill that could very likely prove impossible to enforce if it ever did gain true traction, became real when we considered it as such. On its own, it is a vapid, hollow document; it gains life after we’ve breathed into it our consideration, our concern, and our ultimate taking of an opinion on it.

Community resilience isn’t a simple task, and relies so much on the relationalism between individuals and institutions (including the media). Whether we call it partnership, collaboration, cooperation, coordination, strategic alignment, or any other number of corporate-sounding terms, each time we join together across the lines of our individual playing fields, we’re making another investment in ubuntu, making not only each other real, but making a strong future together possible.

So look at me. Really look at me. I’m a person through you; together, we’re people through each other.

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