S.O.S.: Uncle Jon’s Big Idea

So I was talking to Uncle Jon the other day about ways to take this blog — which came to life during the heat of Obama’s election campaign — and make it relevant to the new reality of the Obama Administration.

One of the recurring pieces I had during the election was called “My Obama Minute.” Essentially, I stole a concept from a writing professor of mine at Iowa — who implored us, if we couldn’t write two hours every day, to write for “one minute a day.” The idea, of course, was that if we sat down to write for that minute, we’d always write more — even if it was only 15 minutes or a half an hour. And sometimes, we’d keep going, for half the day.

With that in mind, I asked supporters to spend one minute a day doing something for the Obama campaign. And I encouraged people to come to this blog and write about their efforts — whether they simply sent $5 to a darkhorse Democrat online, or spent an entire morning at a ballpark rally. Many, many of you wrote in.

How, I wondered, could I encourage the same kind of participation on this blog going forward?

Barack Obama himself pointed to the answer, in his inaugural address:

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent’s willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends — hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

In a page one editorial picking up on this theme, headlined “The Price and Promise of Citizenship,” The Forward asked: “How will we act? How will the Jewish community meet this challenge?”

“Citizenship has a price tag that cannot be discounted or ignored,” The Forward noted. “That’s a Jewish value as old as Sinai and in need of constant updating.”

Consider that, by some reputable estimates, as many as 15% to 20% of Jews in America are poor; in New York City, within a subway ride of Bernie Madoff’s penthouse jail, the concentrations of Jewish poverty are staggering. According to the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, nearly half of the city’s Russian-speaking immigrants live in poor Jewish households. Often they are old and ill, but a surprising number of poor Jews have attended college. The elixir of education does not always work its magic. Much more help is needed.

Obama, in calling forth this “new era of responsibility,” is asking us to help.

We’re all busy, of course. We’ve got jobs and kids and ice dams climbing up the roof that could sink the Titanic. Which is why we should not hesitate to start small. Can we give just a few minutes a week to make our communities better?

Start there. See what happens.

Which brings me to Uncle Jon’s idea: Whenever you heed that call to give back to the community — whether it’s mentoring a child, or volunteering at a soup kitchen, or donating blood; maybe you just stopped the car to pick up an empty Starbucks cup rolling around in the gutter — come to this blog and tell us about it.

I want to be expansive about this. You don’t have to join the army. The point is to think, just a little bit differently, about how we can help. About what we can give.

Obama, in his inaugural, spoke of that vital “spirit of service” — people’s “willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves.”

So that’s what we’ll call this — Spirit of Service — or “S.O.S.”

Anybody out there do anything to make our world a wee bit better this week? Let’s hear about it.

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4 Responses to “S.O.S.: Uncle Jon’s Big Idea”

  1. Barbara says:

    Great idea, Josh. Here are our SOS moments:
    1. Jon is returning from his 5 day family mitzvah in New Jersey.

    2. In the meantime, I received a letter last week from my friend in Israel with a letter attached from her son. I can’t seem to attach the letter to this comment, but I have put it on Flickr. We have made a donation to his troop. They are also looking for email words of support:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/radbarb/3239292972/sizes/l/

  2. eww says:

    I helped my neighbor during the last Ice storm to clean off his walk way, clean off his cars so that they could be moved before the plows arrived. This is an ongoing
    concern this winter – will it ever end.

  3. Neurotic Dem says:

    Barbara and EWW — THANKS for kicking this off! This is exactly the kind of stuff I’m talking about.
    Barb, what a moving letter. Thanks for including the link. As my first official S.O.S., I sent an email to the troop in Israel. I encourage people to follow the link you posted above, and to write to the troop at: unit5037@gmail.com
    EWW — I spent the morning today with a twenty-foot roof rake, pulling snow down off the ice dams on our roof. Also, hauling the kids around on the sleds, and building Oval Egg People out of snow. Meyer spent a good hour plus feeding the Oval Egg People pinecones and leaves. (They were hungry.) Hey — he’s four — that probably counts as an S.O.S. for him!

  4. Jon says:

    I have emailed the unit. I’ve also volunteered to work with an AARP group that prepares taxes for people of low and moderate income, especially those above the age of 60. I’m waiting to here back from them.

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