One of the most important professional lessons I have learned in my decade in the rabbinate is that words matter. Whether it be the language used in a sermon or speaking to someone in a time of great distress, the choices we make in our words is of the utmost importance. The commonly used refrain, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me,” is blatantly false. Words have the power to both destroy and rebuild, depending on how they are used. Yet, we continue to often use the same language without thinking about what those words mean and what better terminology may be possible.
Within Jewish life, there are a number of good examples of terms that are used regularly that don’t represent what it is that we are actually trying to present. Calling a Jewish communal organization a “non-profit” is an accurate description legally of what the institution may be, but poorly represents the character of the organization. It describes what the institution isn’t rather than what it is: an organization singularly focused on repairing the world rather than advancing its own financial interests. What would it mean to refer to our Jewish communal organizations as “for a cause” or “community-minded” rather than simply referring to it as a non-profit? [Read more…]