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The folly of focusing on the future



“Tell me,” She asked casually, as though inquiring about the time, “Is there a future for our children in South Africa?” I was late for shul on the second night of the festival of Shavuot and being late for anything isn’t something I’m comfortable with. I had walked past the family in the street at a time when they were obviously debating the issue that many are grappling with.

It took me a second to understand that it was no coincidence that I had walked by at that moment and that I needed to give it my attention. G-d, I figured, would understand my lack of punctuality. Whether my German ancestors would be as forgiving wasn’t clear, but I thought I would take that chance.

“Future for our children? Definitely not,” was my answer to her question. “But that doesn’t mean that you can’t raise them in a fantastic community, provide them with a brilliant education, and assist them to become kind, contributing, and successful humans. All while you, the parents, live with purpose and contribute to something greater than yourselves.”

Personally, I couldn’t imagine a better reason to hang around.

As Jews, we know this. When we build outside of Israel, we build in quicksand. The structures sink, our shuls get repurposed, and the community ebbs and flows and then moves north. The buildings are important only for housing a place for learning and growth and for furthering the goal of education and of community building. Understanding that brings us a step closer to answering the age-old question.

Our obsession with future generations perplexes me. The expectation that we can consider the circumstances of those so far in the distance is one that I fail to understand. Instead of focusing on the foundations and the ground floors, we try and imagine 30 stories up without having any idea what that might look like.

Put another way, if we can lead productive and contributing lives as Jews, which means having both an internal community and greater community focus, and if we’re able to raise solid, G-d-fearing children, then why would we be concerned that there might be a mistake of geography? Why not do what we’re able to, and let G-d take care of the rest?

If leaving South Africa allows the factors to align in Israel or anywhere else, then that might well be the best decision. But to try make it based on a hypothetical future not only makes the decision impossible, but causes us to focus on the wrong things.

To me the answer is simple. Accept that there’s no future for the next generations. Then focus on what gives meaning, how best we can contribute. Geography, while a wonderful subject for matric, is the wrong focus. As is a future that contains more unknown factors than we can imagine.

To give our children the best chance at a successful future it’s imperative that we focus on the present.

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