Two recent podcast guests, Jill Sarkozi, a Reform Jew-by-Choice, and Prianka Alam, a Sunni Muslim, both talked about their dedication to their religious communities, writ large. For Jill, the focus is helping the children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors retain the family history – before, during, and after the war. The vehicle is her Safekeeping Stories program. For Prianka, the focus includes her local Muslim community, but more broadly, it is her voluntary work with Penny Appeal USA, a global humanitarian organization. I am likewise committed to my religious community as an active member of my synagogue, helping others and volunteering on committees.
"So it began a really meaningful family journey into his story.”
Jill was inspired to help Jewish families by her experience with her father-in-law, a Holocaust survivor. As with many survivors, he had not spoken of this traumatic experience much. Over time, his tale gradually unfolded, and he wrote it down. Once completed, sharing it with the family, and with his grandchildren’s school classes, propelled the family into history and bound them together. Jill noted:
“It was hard. But also powerful and actually after that we had many conversations about the past and we all even went to his hometown in Hungary and took that trip together. So it began a really meaningful family journey into his story.”
Knowing the past and gaining the sense of roots, belonging and connection to the bigger picture continues to fuel Jill’s Safekeeping Stories program. She sees it replay in many participants as they gradually unearth their own family story and learn the connections between the past, present and imagined future. Retaining these histories, that are so easily lost in the rush of time, is her contribution to others and to the Jewish community as a whole. As she said:
“How do these stories get handed down? You're either lucky enough to be around where somebody happens to be telling you, or you grab it piecemeal as you're living your life, or you do something intentional and give it the time that it needs and create something tangible out of all this intangible stuff.”
Not everything is worth preserving, but the process of sifting and selecting items that can provide a keyhole into the story allows any family to hone a ‘short, shareable story’.
Prianka has been likewise inspired by personal family experience to care for her community. Watching her immigrant parents struggle financially focused her mind on education and a career path. She has accomplished those goals, graduating from college, and becoming settled in corporate America. Wanting to do more, to care for the broader Muslim community, she has joined the Board of Penny Appeal USA, a global humanitarian organization. Its motto of ‘Small Change, Big Difference’ echoes childhood memories of stretching meager resources.
“Am I helping people with whatever I'm doing?”
Islam teaches that life is but a short minute. As a result, Prianka wants to make sure she’s having the greatest impact within her realm of control, asking: “Am I doing the right thing?’ she asks herself. “Am I helping people with whatever I'm doing?” Being on the board of Penny Appeal USA is her answer. But it’s more than the aid provided. “Their motto and their strategy and their thought process aligned to my beliefs and purpose.”
For my own part, group observance, helping members in need and leading committees binds me to the synagogue. The care of community was demonstrated this week at our community meeting. I was reminded that however lofty the biblical inspiration, realizing those dreams takes both ritual and practical work – maintaining the building, managing finances and planning activities. Doing so connects us to our history and values. We shoulder the responsibility with honor.
Jill, Prianka, and I are each responding to the needs of our communities, be they near or far. We give of our time, energy, money, and skills. In exchange, we receive the satisfaction of a connection to history while sustaining others through living our beliefs. As Jill noted, it is “feeling that sense of roots. Feeling that sense of belonging and connection to something bigger than yourself and knowing the power of that for your life and well-being.” Amen.
Click here to listen to Jill’s episode (#36).
Click here to listen to Prianka’s episode (#37).
Thoughts? Send comments and questions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or write a comment below. I look forward to hearing from you! Méli