What is it to “Serve” Another?

This past month, I had the privilege of addressing the members of Congregation Agudath Israel during their celebration of Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM). The invitation arose from our connection with two active families from the WAE Center, who are also congregants of the synagogue, the Elmowitz and Solomon families. Aided by the invaluable support of congregant Ann Leeb and Susan Werk, we collectively decided that the topic of my address would be diversity and inclusion, specifically focusing on the distinction between “serving” and “helping.”

Upon my arrival, I was warmly welcomed with joyous embraces, discovering that some of JSDD’s board members and volunteers are also members of the congregation. Rather than feeling nervous, I was elated to discuss the significance of inclusion within our communities. The synagogue, honoring my presence, requested me to share a reading, a gesture that deeply touched me, though I regretfully couldn’t fulfill it due to my inability to speak Hebrew. However, their reassurance that an alternative plan would be arranged put me at ease.

I was asked to carry the Torah around the congregation, allowing participants to touch it. I just Knew, whether it had ever happened before, that I was going to drop this sacred religious object. Thankfully, my nerves were put to rest by the support of Jerry Solomon, who walked me through the whole process (literally and figuratively). I am pleased to share that the Torah remained steadfast in my hands.

Following this wonderful symbolic act, I was invited to the bema to address the congregation. Beginning from behind the podium, I soon stepped forward to engage with the audience; encouraging them to share their definitions of “community” and “inclusion”. Initially met with hesitation, the conversation eventually led to a rich exchange of ideas and perspectives not only communicated to me, but among one another as well.

I then touched on the history of JSDD and the WAE Center before focusing on the core theme of my presentation—the concept of “serving” versus “helping.” Drawing inspiration from Rachel Naomi Remen’s article “In the Service of Life,” I highlighted the profound difference in mindset. At its core, the concepts of “helping,” “fixing,” and “service” shape our perspective on life. When we extend help, we perceive life as fragile; when we seek to fix, we perceive life as flawed. In contrast, approaching life with a mindset of service allows us to see it as complete and interconnected. True service benefits both the giver and the receiver, fostering mutual growth. That which utilizes us also empowers us. While fixing and helping may lead to exhaustion and burn out over time, service acts as a source of renewal. Engaging in service ensures that our efforts sustain us, providing a lasting impact. Fixing and helping are the basis of curing, but true healing only occurs through service.

With these profound insights echoing in the minds of the congregation, I challenged them (as I do all of us), to contemplate how we can consistently serve our communities. This call extends beyond the designated month of February, dedicated to celebrating JDAIM, urging us to make service a continuous and integral part of our lives throughout the entire year.