Detail of the Knesset Menorah, Jerusalem: Hillel the Elder teaching a man the meaning of the whole Torah while he stands on one foot Photo credit: Deror Avi via Wikimedia Commons
This famous sentence, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? And if not now, then when?"* is attributed to Rabbi Hillel in Pirkei Avot – known in English as the Ethics of the Fathers, a compilation of the ethical teachings and maxims of the Rabbis of the Mishnaic period. It is a constant source of pride and wonder at how very clever our Rabbis were and how still exceedingly relevant such a statement is today. In fact, it is the very philosophy that drives ESRA.
If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
ESRA was first established as a self-help organization, by and for new immigrants to Israel from English-speaking countries. Its aim was to provide a social framework, in English, to help with the acclimation and integration of the new olim. As it grew, ESRA began responding to new waves of immigration, offering help to other immigrant groups including Russians and Ethiopians. From there ESRA activities spread to helping any needy sector of Israeli society. But as the saying goes, we must not forget to help ourselves. That's why our 20 ESRA branches are constantly busy organizing a range of social and cultural activities in English for our members. In fact, anyone who likes can enjoy these activities, but members get significant discounts.
So what kind of activities are we talking about? The range is impressive and includes:
Hikes and trips: These include hikes around the country, trips to museums, geographic and other attractions, and guided visits to historic sites. All organized and led by volunteers, the trips are suitable for any age group, from families to octogenarians.
The Audrey Goodman ESRA Cinema Club: A range of interesting films and documentaries are screened regularly, often in the presence of the local film producer who leads a discussion and Q&A following the film. Topics have ranged from mother-daughter relationships to reunions of Holocaust survivors, to creating kosher haute cuisine.
A range of speakers: These include lecture series on music and musicians, special interest talks on topics from adoption to politics, and just about anything in between. They take place at branch meeting halls, private homes or museums and universities.
Special events and social get-togethers: Too numerous to list, this includes such things as the ESRA Annual Quiz night, BBQs, picnics, golf tournaments, and what-have-you.
But if I am only for myself alone, who am I?
Looking at the second part of Rabbi Hillel's statement, ESRA firmly adheres to the belief that it is good for your country, for your surroundings, and for your soul, to do good for others. A great deal of ESRA's budget and our members’ efforts go toward offering opportunities for volunteering and running its welfare projects aimed at promoting education, supporting weaker sectors of society and rehabilitating whole communities.
And if not now, then when?
And finally, with regard to the last part of Rabbi Hillel's statement – what better time than now? So, do yourself a favor and join us – become an ESRA member, treat yourself to our variety of activities, do good for others through volunteering, and do it now!
With warm regards and wishing you all interesting and entertaining activities, satisfying volunteering, and a Happy New Year, blessed with peace and fulfillment.
* אִם אֵין אֲנִי לִי, מִי לִי ?וּכְשֶׁאֲנִי לְעַצְמִי, מָה אֲנִי? וְאִם לֹא עַכְשָׁיו, אֵימָתַי?
Renee and Ed: Thanks for all your hard work
At our AGM in June, two long-standing Executive members decided not to stand for reelection. We would like to take this opportunity to express our deep appreciation for their years of work and wish them many healthy years of continued volunteering:
Renee Goldstein has been a stalwart of the Fundraising Committee, and an Executive member for many years and spends countless hours contacting lapsed and new members.
Ed Wolfe, forever young at heart, has been active running our ESRA Nearly New stores since 1997, together with his wonderful wife, Betty. He has been a member of the Executive for many years and no praise is enough.