Lyrics from the play Rent are part of my personal sound track as I contemplate the beginning of my second year working on behalf of Ottawa’s Jewish community.
“525,600 minutes. How do you measure, measure a year?”
Never before has a piece, which has taken me longer to write, had so many different beginnings, endings and middles. In fact, I may need a new delete button on my computer as a result of this article. Why? Because it is challenging to condense 525,600 minutes of learning, activity, success and failure, passion and commitment, and of thanks, into a few hundred words. I have therefore chosen a different approach and instead share how the experiences of both a former American president and Canadian Olympic hockey have important messages for our community.
Several months ago, Stephen Victor introduced me to “The Man in the Arena,” a short speech delivered in 1910 by former president Theodore Roosevelt. (If it had been written today, let’s hope it would have been called “People in the Arena.”)
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena,” Roosevelt said.
Even now, so many years later, the speech remains relevant because it contains a timeless message to get involved.
On one level, you can get involved, simply by providing feedback. If an article or column in this issue of the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin moved you (good or bad), make a comment on the website (www.ottawajewishbulletin.com) or send a letter to the editor (firstname.lastname@example.org).
If you heard from your best friend’s sister-in-law’s dentist’s cousin about a decision the Jewish Federation of Ottawa made and you have questions, let’s talk. Don’t deprive our community’s leadership from hearing your concerns. Call me at 613-798-4711.
I am currently reading To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, Daniel Pink’s book on the changing nature of sales. In it, he shows a sign from the owner of an Italian restaurant essentially telling customers “I need your help. If your service or dinner tonight was not up to your expectations, please let me know and here is my personal cell.” In other words, things can only change when you have conversation with people who can make the change happen. Even better, make a decision to get involved and personally affect outcomes. Become a person in the arena.
Why limit your role to feedback when there is so much work to do? If you have not done any Jewish learning as an adult, check out a class. And, if you enjoy it, tell a friend. If you play basketball in a municipal league, consider playing at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre instead. If it has been eons since you last attended a Shabbat service, check one out. If your last trip to Israel was in your teens, consider getting reacquainted with the wonders and complexity of modern day Israel. If you want to volunteer, try the Federation or any one of the 55-plus organizations in our Jewish community who would benefit from your time and expertise. In short, don’t be a spectator and instead join those already in the arena trying to make a difference, trying to help our community shine even brighter and trying to lead a Jewish life.
And now, from a speech in 1910 to the February Olympics – which on the surface may seem like a complete non sequitur. Although the Olympics are so last month (actually, the month before last), I believe our community can learn valuable lessons from the Canadian Olympic hockey experience.
From the women, we learn every minute of those 525,600 we get each year matters (particularly the last three minutes of a hockey game). If it is worth caring about, if something is worth fighting for – Ottawa’s Jewish community is at the top of my list – keep striving, keep playing and stay positive.
From the men, we are reminded of the importance of team. The true brilliance of the Canadian men’s team was that, when a group of exceptionally talented individuals work as one, great things happen. When we sacrifice our own individual aspirations and agendas, we do better. In fact, we are better.
Three important messages for our community:
• From Roosevelt – get involved;
• From the Canadian women’s hockey team – it is never too late to make a difference;
• And from the Canadian men’s hockey team – together is better.
Jewish community life is complicated and it is not always easy. But it is always interesting, rewarding and fulfilling. For me, the last 525,600 minutes has been filled with learning, doing and striving to be my best. As I look forward to the next 525,600 minutes, I am excited and enthusiastic about all that we can accomplish together. Let’s make every minute meaningful, thoughtful and purposeful.
Andrea Freedman is president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa and the Ottawa Jewish Community Foundation.