By Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet
It’s been four weeks now and unless you’ve been living under a rock somewhere, you will have heard about, or indeed participated the ice bucket challenge. Of course there are inherent paradoxes in the whole scheme. You are considered a real sport if you rise to the challenge and have ice water poured over you and a wet blanket if you refuse the water and simply give the $100 instead. In other words, you’re a better person if you’re prepared to soak yourself in lieu of giving charity.
Still, the challenge has raised an unprecedented awareness of the charity and in particular several suffering from the dreaded disease and has generated so far many millions in donations. The Ice Bucket Challenge has not only been an internet sensation, but more importantly a fund-raising success.
Media marketers are all over this, analyzing how the trend went viral and had such a dramatic universal effect. It is the envy of every other charity and ever business for that matter that might use social media for its marketing. For me, there are some compelling lessons to be derived that we can all apply into our daily living.
First and most obvious is the emotional pull. What attracted so many people to get involved in something like this? Would there be the same appeal if you were challenged to promote say, Corn Flakes? Obviously not! Inspiring a sense of neutrality isn’t going to have much of an impact. It is being able to do your bit to fight a disease that is going to elicit more of a reaction than marketing a breakfast cereal because knowing that you can make a difference is what appeals to your heart and soul.
Every one of us lives with a yearning of wanting to make a difference to others, though some are more cognisant of this than others. Those who are more conscious of this drive reach beyond their comfort zones and emerge as heroes for others. Hence Abraham Lincoln overcame many setbacks to become the most influential American President who helped to bring about the abolishment of slavery. Winston Churchill, in the worst moments of the war, inspired the free nations to keep alive the fight against the tyranny of Nazi Germany. Helen Keller, despite both deafness and blindness, became a champion of social issues and helped improve the welfare of disabled people.
On the Jewish front, we’ve had the likes of Moshe who, notwithstanding his own apparent initial insecurities, “who am I with my speech impediment, that I should go to Pharaoh and redeem the people,” went on to become the greatest leader of all time. King David, who said about himself, “I am a worm not a man,” still went on to become the most famous Jewish king, already at the age of thirty. The Lubavitcher Rebbe, who vociferously refused the mantle of leadership for the better part of a year following the passing of his predecessor, went on to transform the post Holocaust Jewish world.
Most people however don’t believe enough in themselves and slip into a routine of mediocre living and accomplishment. Hence, there comes a moment when suddenly you feel you could make a difference, it resonates with you; yes, it leaves you somewhat uncomfortable, but apart from a damp shirt and wet socks, it’s pretty bearable – so, millions embrace the opportunity.
The point is, you could do more – so much more. You don’t have to do something just because every else is doing it, and because, after all, the discomfort is limited. You could be so much more than that. Perhaps the initial steps will be unnerving, painful even, but the world is moved not only by the mighty shoves and heroics of great men, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each smaller hero that is you. We all have greatness within. We must look to discover our uniqueness and what it is we bring to the world. We then, in turn become champions and heroes for others as well. All things are possible for those who believe in themselves. There is more to us than we know. If we can be made to see it, perhaps for the rest of our lives we will be unwilling to settle for less.
Then there is the other important lesson – the way the phenomenon went viral. Think how the world connected on such an unprecedented level, in doing something that some might argue is a little puerile, albeit for a positive cause. For the past four weeks, it was the ice bucket challenge hash-tag that consumed every twitter feed and Facebook posting. The biggest media outlets are covering it on their headline news.
Can you imagine what we can then do – how we can connect the world in doing other things even more powerful, even more meaningful, in doing something that can transform the landscape of our universe for the good – to be a better, more peaceful place?
Part of the viral success of the ice-bucket challenge is attributable to the fact that it doesn’t end with you. You’ve been challenged but then thereafter you get to nominate others to accept the same challenge. And so it goes round and round. Is that then not our mission statement? When thinking about the right sort of analogy with which to capture Jewish responsibility, it is best compared to a game of tag; One person is it, and then he runs around chasing other people – reaching out, touching them and saying “you’re it” and so it goes round and round.
Surely that is what we are supposed to be doing to one degree or another. In the first instance, as Jews, making our Judaism go viral; chasing after other Jewish souls, reaching out, touching them emotionally, spiritually, sensitively, impacting them, transforming them, – but it doesn’t stop there – it’s got to be a chain reaction – that now “you’re it!” You’ve got to go out there and touch someone else and affect someone else in the same sort of way. And so it goes, a ripple effect, which reverberates around the globe.
Beyond that, we live in a world which seems so riddled by chaos – a world in which people are looking for greater meaning – greater purpose. A world in which our brothers and sisters in Israel are hurting and Anti Semitism alas seems to rear its ugly head yet again. But we can reverse that trend. Every good deed begets another. When you do a mitzvah, it goes viral. It creates a ripple effect, generating a spiritual ambience that reverberates around the world and impacts everyone, Jew and non-Jew alike.
There are cantankerous critics and killjoys out there who have derided the ice bucket challenge. The fact is, it’s happened and it is for us to therefore learn something from it. Don’t rest on your laurels. You can make more of a difference. Reach beyond your comfort zone. Touch the life of another.
The day is short and the task is great! Go do your mitzvah and watch it go viral. That is your challenge. You (don’t even) have 24 hours!
Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet took the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge with the help of his wife Mrs. Chani Schochet, and Simcha Ballon, Bezy Gluck and Moishe Goldblatt from Kisharon which serves people with special needs.
He nominated: Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, Jewish News Editor Richard Ferrer, President of the Board of Deputies Vivian Wineman, Zionist Federation Chairman Paul Charney and Chairman of the Jewish Leadership Council Mick Davis.
He dedicated it to Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz, the Chabad Shliach in Temecula, California, who is battling ALS.