I’ve always loved songs that tell a complete story, and one of my favorites was often performed by, believe it or not, Liza Minnelli. The story of “Ring Them Bells” is as humorous as it is simple. Shirley Devore, a 31 year old living at home with her parents on New York’s Riverside Drive, travels half way around the globe in search of a husband. She finds aforementioned husband on the beach in Dubrovnik, only to discover that he lives in the apartment directly next to her own.
I was reminded of this tale while listening to participants at the 248 Community Action Network Global Summit we held here in Minneapolis this week. This jewel project sponsored by our overseas partner, The Jewish Agency for Israel, brings young people together from the United States and Israel, teaching them how to be “Jewish do-ers” while exploring the Jewish world together and creating outreach and engagement projects that can be replicated in any Jewish community. The projects ranged from family engagement of lonely Holocaust survivors to baking hamentashen for soldiers.
The fact that many interesting and potentially successful projects will be implemented as a result of the global summit (and I am so proud that we hosted the first one), in and of itself is an accomplishment. But that is only part of the story. Of equal, if not greater value, is the bridge between Jewish communities and between individual Jews being built as the participants experience this journey. We heard from an Israeli woman who had never been inside a reform shul (let alone any shul in the past 20 years) and after her experiences here in Minnesota is now committed to having her daughter undertake bat mitzvah training. We heard from an Orthodox man who became best friends with a progressive woman, saying “We disagree about everything. But now I love her and respect her.” We also heard from many of the participants that speaking in front of such a large audience was “outside their comfort zone,” but they took center stage because the program meant so much to them. They chose to “Ring them Bells”.
Like Shirley Devore, sometimes you have to travel halfway around the globe to gain a better understanding of your neighbor. I am confident that programs like 248 CAN are vital to the future strength and success of Jewish peoplehood – not only because of the programs initiated, but because of the understanding, respect, and commitment to the notion of “doing Jewish” together it engenders.