Rabbi Dr. Chaim Joel Laks, my grandfather, passed away six years ago this past Sunday. He was instrumental in building up the Jewish community in Queens, New York; he was very involved in the start up of a local shul, school and vaad (rabbinic council), and served as a chaplain for many years in the very hospital where he ultimately gave his soul to his Creator, the morning prayer on his lips as he took his final breaths. I recall speaking at his funeral about the impact he made on me. He was a very sophisticated and respected individual, receiving a Ph.D. in philosophy and rabbinic ordination at a very young age. He even had a street named after him.
But what was most impressive to me was his ability to understand people and to value everyone’s perspective. He was likely much smarter and knowledgeable than almost anyone he met, yet when you spoke with him, you felt that your opinion mattered. You felt that you had an understanding individual on the other side of the conversation who considered your thoughts without judgment. That is what mattered most to me, and that is what I spoke about. I spoke about how he helped me write a paper arguing one point of view, and then helped me write my next paper arguing the opposite point of view (my teacher was a bit confused when he saw the second paper). He appreciated diversity of perspective and that made a significant impression on me.
I look to follow in his footsteps. I, too, would like to make an impact on my community. I, too, would like to consider others’ needs and address them to the best of my ability. I, too, would like to extol diversity of perspective. On a national level, the country seems more overtly divided than I can remember; and on a local level, the Greater Washington Jewish community could benefit from increased collaboration and sharing of its great programming, resources, and human capital.
Kol HaBirah (translated as “Voice of the Capital”) looks to fill these gaps. Kol HaBirah will provide a vehicle for the local community to share its resources and perspectives with each other. Maybe we’ll attend a program or event we wouldn’t have heard about because it was 20 minutes away. Maybe we’ll become friends with a person we never met before. Perhaps even more ambitious, perhaps we’ll come to value the perspective of someone who has a different opinion than us about a “hot-button” issue.
Kol HaBirah will not be fulfilling its mission if any one person is able to read the entire paper and leave satisfied that their prior opinions were validated and were not challenged. We are intentionally trying to bring diversity of perspective, challenge preconceived notions, and facilitate difficult yet important conversations.
We would like to be clear that as a member of the community, Kol HaBirah is your paper. Kol HaBirah will be whatever you make it. We can’t thank enough all those people, businesses, and organizations that contributed to this first issue. We did our best within the time constraints to reach out to as many people as possible to ask for their involvement. We can’t run this ourselves, nor do we want to do this ourselves. As a community paper, we intend on being a voice of the community, or as Kol HaBirah translates, a “Voice of the Capital.” Our intention is not to provide you with news, perspectives and resources–– we wish to be the vehicle that allows your news, perspectives, and resources to be heard beyond just your inner circle and brings you news, perspectives, and resources that come from beyond your inner circle.
Take the poignant example of our mission and goals, displayed on our “About Page.” This was sent out to community members across the spectrum (Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, unaffiliated, Republican, Democrat, etc.) and received strong feedback from many helpful people. After multiple iterations, the majority of responses from all sides were ultimately in the affirmative and that’s when we knew we had our mission and goals. We didn’t make our mission and goals–– we asked the community to define it for us, with us. We intend to continue asking the community to shape Kol HaBirah so that it reflects your voice and addresses your needs.
That said, we face the extremely difficult task of balancing the opinions and perspectives of our community and trying to keep everyone happy. That won’t happen. Everyone will not be happy all the time and we don’t look to promise that; but we do guarantee to value your perspective, whatever that may be, and work with you to publish it in some form in Kol HaBirah. Out of all the articles that were submitted for this issue, we had to decline only one, and it was on the basis that certain aspects of the content could come across as attacking certain parts of the community. That lies outside the scope of one aspect of our mission: to provide “respectful” dialogue, and an offer was made to collaborate on re-working the article.
I’d like to thank the Kol HaBirah staff and our “friends” at the Jewish Link of New Jersey for their enormous efforts in making sure this gets published on time. Our inaugural issue is the result of the enormous amount of dedication and energy that was put in it by the folks you will see on the “About Us” page. If you like this edition, please reach out to them and thank them for their efforts, as they truly deserve it. If you don’t like this edition, please let me know and I’d be happy to talk about how we can improve it so that it best fits your needs.