Davar Acher by Jeremy Cronig
In examining Parashat Lech L’cha, Rabbi Goldberg discusses the importance of asking the right questions. He ends his d’var Torah by asking the most important question for my generation: “The world, sadly, is still burning. Does anyone care?”
I am here, hopefully, to answer this question.
I’m a millennial – born between the 1980s and the early 2000s – and people of my generation are often criticized by the media. Time Magazine dubbed us the “Me Me Me Generation” in the cover story of its May 2013 edition. I hear the constant refrain that we are self-absorbed and “just teenagers.” Viewed according to this narrative, Rabbi Goldberg’s question raises a critical concern: if my generation is so inherently selfish, what does the future of our world look like?
Here’s a counterpoint to this idea: My generation is much like Abraham. In Parashat Lech L’cha, God requests that Abram (later renamed Abraham) “go forth … to the land that I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1), and Abram follows God’s will. Yet when God later tells him: “Have no fear … I am giving you an abundant reward,” Abram responds “Eternal God, what can You give me, when I am going [to die] childless …?” (15:1-2).
Certainly, this is not the response that we would expect from Abram, who seems so devoted to God, yet has the temerity to ask, “What’s in it for me?” And, in the following parashah, Vayeira, Abraham (so named in Genesis 17:5) again challenges God, this time in regard to destroying Sodom and Gomorrah (18:23-33).
Abraham sounds sort of like … a millennial! Abraham is there for God and he answers the call. But by challenging a “higher power” he shows his devotion in a different way. People of my generation, like Abraham, are devoted to many good causes and have high ideals, but sometimes we need to challenge the status quo.
We do this because we care – in our own way. Our generation’s social justice looks a lot different than that of the past. It’s driven by social media and by using the Internet to fund projects. According to Forbes, it is estimated that over $5 billion was raised online via crowdfunding in 2013, up from $2.7 billion in 2012. Through this social media boom, we push the envelope on gender and sexual equality in North America, and raise awareness for issues such as Everytown for Gun Safety’s Wear Orange campaign, of which NFTY was a founding partner.
This is counter to the narrative that my generation is all about “me.” We make it about ourselves because we truly believe that anyone can change the world.
Teenagers and millennials today are much like Abraham because we challenge the status quo to our own “higher power.” We work to better ourselves, but also to better the world. And we do this mainly for one reason: because we see the world “burning” and we do care.
Jeremy Cronig is from Cleveland, Ohio, and is currently serving as NFTY’ s 66th president.
Cross-posted on ReformJudaism.org