Human beings are notoriously bad at understanding large numbers. Give us any number of magnitude, and we may register the numerical value intellectually, but our brain lacks the capacity to truly comprehend the scale.
The Jewish people have been dealing with this struggle of telling our story for millennia. For most of my life, our looming challenge has been to help the world and ourselves understand the number 6 million. From a thick tome with the word “Jew” repeated 6 million times, to a rural Tennessee middle school project-turned-monument of paper clips, our society has repeatedly tried to give some sort of visual and tangible anchor to help us comprehend the magnitude.
More recently, on October 7th, 1,200 people were viciously gouged from the body of the Jewish people through violence. This number is far smaller than 6 million but still far larger than our minds can comfortably internalize.
I want to personally thank “Ron the Baker” at Akiba Yavneh Academy (AYA) for a deeply powerful epiphany that he shared with me the morning following our "From Home to Homeland" event. He noted that the number of attendees was equal to the number of precious souls lost on October 7th in those gruesome terror attacks. With Ron’s help, I now have a visual anchor to help comprehend the number.
The simple truth is that no number or picture can penetrate the heart completely without individual stories. When I looked out at the audience that was present for our Home to Homeland event, what made that image powerful was knowing so many of the faces I was seeing. These weren’t just ticketed seats corresponding to names on a pledge card; these were my friends and family.
Over the last nearly five years, I’ve been blessed to interact with, learn about, and even passionately debate issues of significance with incredible individuals right here in our community. The unfathomable thought that, G-d forbid, all these faces I know, parents, mentors, friends, the very fabric of our community could be taken from us tomorrow, leaving the remaining community to pick up the pieces. My awe for the determined survivors of the October 7th massacres is the only feeling growing more rapidly than the ground swell of pain.
With that insight, our upcoming Solidarity Mission to Israel takes on a new significance. Intellectually, we already framed this trip as a communal shiva call, participants committing to comfort the bereaved and assume the yolk demanded of one who bears witness to the aftermath of the greatest atrocity to hit the Jewish people since the Holocaust. Ultimately, profundity will not be found in the images we capture on our phones and in our memories of the physical destruction, but through the relationships we establish when we meet survivors and absorb their stories. Those moments will forever change us. Forever.
Take the community members of Zikim, located on the Gaza periphery. Over the next three years, JFGD will help them mourn, heal, and rebuild, emerging from the darkness of October 7th. As the first to hear their stories and establish people-to-people connections that will bind our two communities together, it will be on all of us who attend this mission to come back and share their stories.
I have the unique privilege of working hand in hand with driven professionals and lay leaders who, across the tapestry of Jewish institutions, make vibrant Jewish life possible here in Dallas. We are not a small town anymore—not a small Jewish community—and as our numbers swell, and the community expands and diversifies, it will only become more impossible to truly know the unique lives (not merely their number) who make up our community.
To this end, it may seem problematic that we know the people in our own synagogues better than those at another or that we take pride in our summer camp, religious school, or day school allegiances. There is no moral deficiency in community connection so long as we do not let this limit our world. Ultimately, all of us are charged with internalizing and understanding the totality of life within our community.