By Michael Schostak,  Hillel graduate (1993), husband of Alexis, and father of current Hillel students, Hayley (K) and Benji (ECC-2).

When we retell the Passover story at our Seders this year, we will no doubt talk about Moses and his strong leadership in standing up to Pharaoh and his hardened heart with those famous words: “Let my people go!” One small part of the story often overlooked is that Moses initially begged God to let him off the hook and choose someone else to lead, insisting that he lacked the ability and credibility to assume the awesome responsibility that God gave him at the burning bush.

I have been reflecting on this story as I think about a conversation I had recently, when I was asked why I ran for an office on my township board.

Let me be clear that I am not comparing myself to Moses, our ancestors’ savior. But I do think it worth noting that Moses eventually overcame his fears and concerns to fulfill his mission and rescue our people when he had to.

I think this lesson is relevant because we all will get called to serve in a situation that we are uniquely suited for. Perhaps that call will come from the outside: a leader of our child’s school asks us to sit on a committee, or the PTO needs volunteers for a fundraiser, or our synagogue/temple seeks new board members. Other times that “call” might be an internal desire to get involved with a cause because we believe strongly in something or someone. Regardless of the source, when faced with a call to serve our community or one of our beloved institutions, we ought to think about that story with Moses and not let any hesitations or concerns stand in the way of dedicating our time and effort in service to others.

What might have happened if Moses had succumbed to his fears and anxieties about serving his community?

So, in that recent conversation about why I got involved in local government I pointed to a desire to serve my community which sprang from a seed planted in me many years ago during my formative years at Hillel (that’s me on my sixth grade Shabbaton at Tamarack).

We learned the phrase “tikkun olam” singing out loud during the Aleinu prayer every morning in minyan. This idea, that we as Jews, and human beings, have an obligation to repair the world, is one that drives much of Jewish philanthropic and cultural philosophy.

In the fourth grade, we wrote letters to Mikhail Gorbachev to let the captive Soviet Jews out from behind the Iron Curtain. Our teacher, Shoshana Goldschlag, emphasized the importance of what we were doing, and how our letters, and the letters from Jews around the world, might sway the unshakable Soviet government. Moreover, if the young refusniks received our letters, we could only imagine how amazing they would feel knowing that they weren’t forgotten. We might not have been able to visit 10 plagues on the USSR, but we were instilled with the important lesson that you should never be afraid to try and change the world.

At the time, I was quite shy. But I nevertheless campaigned to become my class chair for this letter writing campaign. I came up short when the votes were tallied, but the loss was a meaningful learning experience towards becoming a person who would always heed a call to service. It is that same feeling that led me to run for local office last year when I saw the desperate need for a change in leadership. I am thankful that the outcome this time around was different, and I am currently serving a four-year term as a Trustee of Bloomfield Township.

I very much want my children to feel the same sense of community responsibility and to have the confidence to heed their inner voices, too. I can think of no better place in which to nurture their voices than at Hillel Day School. We may not have called the 7 C’s – communication, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, character, core Jewish values, and community – by this moniker back in my day, but these are the values that Hillel has always instilled in its graduates. Every day, I can’t wait to usher my young children into the arms of teachers who will guide them to their rightful place in the graduation pictures on the walls – knowing that when their time comes, they will be fearless in answering a call to service.




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