Me vs We

Rabbi Irwin Wiener, D.D.

When did WE become ME? Think about it. I did as I was sitting at coffee listening to people discuss times gone by. It is a daily ritual when a group of us get together drinking a $3.00 cup of coffee that at one time sold for 5 cents.

Looking back to the 1940s, in particular, 1941, it was one of the darkest times in the history of our country. World War II was a defining moment in our history and of the world.

Those who lived through this nightmare can remember the sacrifices and the solidarity demonstrated by our fellow citizens. I remember the dimes collected each week in school until enough had accumulated to purchase a War Bond. The cost was $18.75 with redemption at $25.00 in seven years. We did not think about the value but rather the purpose – to aid in the eventual victory over evil.

I remember the rallies to encourage our men and emphasize how proud we were that the finest among us would ensure the finest lives for all of us. The Hollywood stars of the day opened their hearts and purses to symbolize the unity of purpose. The Hollywood Canteen and the USO allowed our soldiers, sailors and airmen the opportunity to take a bit of home with them wherever they were sent.

Who can forget the B29 bombers decorated with the likes of Betty Grable, or Lt. Jimmy Stewart waving goodbye as he entered the nightmare of the unknown? All the famous people of the time lent their time, effort and fortunes as an indication of what America represented, not only to us, but the whole world.

The newsreels gave us an inside look into the horror of war. The newspapers listed the dead. Windows in our homes were draped with banners decorated with stars, one for those serving, and another for those who lost their lives.

Patriotism is a word relegated to history, as is our fervor for justice and mercy. The WE demonstrated by a generation who understood the value of collective responsibility and pride has now become ME. From the walkways of Wall Street to the fortresses of opulence, we see extremes to which we have become accustomed.

From the obscene paychecks of athletes to the corporate greed of accumulation, many no longer feel the need to help those less fortunate. “I have mine, go get yours” is the new slogan of today’s generation. Sports are not played for the sport. Investments are not made for security. Education is not encouraged to enhance character. Law enforcement is now synonymous with distrust. Politics is not to govern, nor leadership to emulate.

Can we again learn the value of pride? Is it possible to witness a return to civility? The inheritance given to us by the past generations will be the model upon which we should make this country great again. Not rhetoric, but example. Strength should be tempered with understanding. Justice should be administered with mercy.

Try thinking of WE as we do when we pray. Because it is through prayer and the understanding of gratitude, that ME will be turned back into WE. Perhaps then we will see an even greater America. This will not be because we proclaim it, but rather because we act it.