At the moment, I am in Chicago and it is Thursday night, and I have to write Machshavot now, as due to the 6 hr time difference there is no way I would be able to finish this in the morning before 6am!
Why am I in Chicago you may ask? I am here as part of our USA tour of ‘Dreams of a Nation’. We performed two sell out concerts in Miami on Tuesday and Wednesday and our final show is on Motzei Shabbat.
It has been a wonderful few days, we have been looked after by Mizrachi USA and the response we have been getting has been fantastic.
There are some differences between Miami and Chicago – mainly that we went from 29 degrees and sun in Miami to -1 degrees and snow in Chicago!
I have been to Chicago many times before. I used to bring several Rabbis to Chicago to Northwestern University to spend a week at the Kellogg Business School as part of a Rabbinic Management Programme which each year three or four UK representatives attended along with 50 American colleagues.
We were treated to the top lecturers and professors in the fields of Management, Leadership, Governance, Strategic thinking, Crisis Management and Fundraising. It was incredibly enlightening and motivational.
It was also fascinating to speak to American colleagues who came from the Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist streams. After the lectures and during meals, we would speak honestly about our issues and problems.
One of our issues as UK Rabbis was the number of Rabbis per synagogue. We were shocked that shuls the size of Borehamwood or HGS in America, would have several Rabbis dealing with different parts of the shul. The shul that we were in for Shacharit each morning this week in Boca Raton has 700 families – that would be considered a medium to large United Synagogue, which would probably only have one Rabbi. Boca Raton Synagogue has EIGHT. A senior Rabbi, an associate Rabbi, an Outreach Rabbi, a Rosh Beit Midrash, a Sephardic Rabbi, a Rabbi for the satellite minyan, a Youth Rabbi and a Teen Rabbi! I have always complained that we do not have enough professional staff in our communities to deal with the size of our communities.
One of their issues (amongst the Conservative and Reform clergy) was their falling numbers and weakening commitment. One Conservative Rabbi told us that he was now sending his kids to Orthodox day schools and Orthodox Yeshivot in Israel as this was the only way to almost guarantee they would remain in the fold! He also told us his synagogue did not approve – but they agreed with him!
One thing we all agreed on was the quality of the lecturers at the Business School.
However once lecturer stood out for us and was simply inspirational. His name was Harry Kraemer Jr, who was the CEO of a huge pharmaceutical company with 50,000 staff but left to become a teacher at Kelloggs – where he began – which is of course how I met him. He spoke to us for 3 hrs – I could have listened for 30.
He spoke about Leadership – but his words rang true for everyone on the planet.
He told us the most important number in the universe is 168. ‘Remember 168’ he said, ‘that will stand you in good stead.’ What is 168 you may ask? It is the hours in one week.
His question to us was how do you spend the 168? Whatever you do, it is going to happen, time will pass, hours will progress and each week there will be 168 hrs whether you like it or not – the question is – what will you do with them.
As Bnei Yisrael continue their journey from slavery to freedom in Beshalach, they very much have to transform from a nation whose time wasn’t their own to a reality where they are masters of their own time. Rav Soloveitchik explained that is why Kiddush HaChodesh – the sanctification of the new month, was the first Mitzvah given to the Jewish people since as slaves, they lacked a sense of time. Making them aware of their responsibilities of time being their own was part and parcel of transition from slavery to freedom. However, as Jews, it is not enough just to count time but to live that time in the correct manner.
In his talk Harry went on to explain how self-reflection allows us to use our hours wisely – to be productive, to be focussed, to be successful, to be meaningful. I remember I thought I was listening to a Rosh Yeshiva not a successful CEO. He does not have a TV in his house, makes sure he spends quality time with his five kids, and devotes serious time to his own religious ethos – he is a committed Christian.
He is a man dedicated not just to measuring time but living time is a worthwhile manner. So as soon as I got back from Chicago I checked up on Harry Kramer.
I was amazed at what I read.
This man who had inspired me with his words about self-reflection and living life correctly, was absolutely living that life in public.
Back in 2001 there was a crisis at his company – several people died worldwide due to a faulty dialysis filter. Straight away he owned up, he told the truth, took responsibility, took a $189 million hit for the company and asked for his bonus to be slashed. He flew to the countries where there had been deaths to apologise personally. In a feature article on this the newspaper said ‘he is relentlessly authentic, he tells the truth and he acts on his beliefs – there are relatively few people in the world like Harry, he lives his life the way most of us would like to live ours’.
In an age where in the diaspora Judaism is struggling to survive in the 21st century, it is the simple ideas of living lives of Halacha which is giving meaning and fulfilment to people which allows time for self-reflection. It is not a coincidence that Orthodoxy is booming in the United States.
As we cross the Red Sea on our way to Sinai, we will soon find out that our connection to the Jewish nation and God is dependent on our connection to the Divine laws that He will give us. 3500 years later in London, Miami and Chicago we will see that the application of those laws in the 21st century is creating a revolution of Jewish living and Jewish learning that I hope and pray everyone can learn from.