Through some quirk of synchronicity, Hineni (Here I Am) has been following me around lately.
It’s a phrase with a great deal of importance in Judaism. Biblically, it is used as an answer to a divine question: Moses says it to the burning bush, Abraham says it before he is instructed to sacrifice Isaac. The implication is a complete readiness to serve.
Truthfully, I didn’t know what the phrase meant until I reviewed David Jaffe’s new book, Changing the World from the Inside Out: A Jewish Approach to Personal and Social Change. He uses Hineni as a signal for readiness to commit to action. I noticed it in the title of Jonathan Safran-Foer’s latest novel, Here I Am. And I saw it on a sign at one of the Women’s Marches on January 21.
Watching the chaos at our nation’s airports this weekend, the fear and confusion tearing apart families, businesses, colleges, hospitals, I wanted to yell it to the world. Hineni, Here I Am, how can I help? I felt a strong urge to be physically present on the front lines. I envied the lawyers who mobilized immediately to offer pro bono services to those stuck in airport limbo.
The actual, specific Here in my Hineni – an island – makes action a little tricky sometimes. Schlepping up to the Augusta march was worth it, but was only feasible because it was a Saturday between boats. I would love to join my friends rallying in Copley Square, in Boston, or march beside my sister in Manhattan, but such a trip requires a lot of advance notice, planning, time and money. I wish I could sponsor a family of refugees, help them settle on our beautiful island, but we have a housing shortage that already affects our year-round residents.
Since I’m limited in my ability to add my physical presence to the numbers demonstrating their resistance to what I believe to be an Islamophobic and chaotically administrated executive order, this is how I will answer the call:
Here I Am: To serve my community as an EMT and our crew’s assistant chief, providing emergency medicine and transportation to anyone who needs it, any time.
Here I Am: To call my elected officials and express both my concern and my gratitude as appropriate.
Here I Am: To provide financial support, in my own small way, to organizations who are fighting on the ground to protect civil liberties, reproductive health, religious freedom, and other causes I believe are essential to a functioning society.
Here I Am: To provide my students with readings that reflect diverse experiences and viewpoints, and with the skills they need to be able to determine truth from opinion from fiction, and to write clearly and with conviction.
Here I Am: To actively engage my daughter in diverse cultures and experiences, and to be completely present for her during play.
Here I Am: To use my words to foster compassion for those who are considered “different” in their communities in some way, and to show those who feel “different” that they are seen, heard, understood, and not alone.
I don’t know if it’s enough, and I will keep striving to expand my contribution. But for now, it’s my Hineni.