Our Days of Awe nurture shirt-off-your-back givers, not takers

The Marxist-infused woke culture – forever cultivating your sense of injury, branding any disagreements “violent,” and canceling deviants - is Hobbesian, asserting dominance by affirming victimhood.

Naomi Hassebroek holds her son Felix while working with her husband, Doug Hassebroek, at their home, in Brooklyn, New York, in March 2020 (photo credit: CAITLIN OCHS/REUTERS)
Naomi Hassebroek holds her son Felix while working with her husband, Doug Hassebroek, at their home, in Brooklyn, New York, in March 2020
(photo credit: CAITLIN OCHS/REUTERS)
The New York Times recently ran a stunning report: “Parents got more time off; then the backlash started.” The article detailed how America’s wealthiest tech companies unintentionally “created a rift between parents offered more benefits” this year “and resentful workers who don’t have children.” Haves weren’t fighting have-nots; it was a whining match among lots of have-a-lots.
The tech companies’ stocks are soaring – and they coddle their workers. Facebook grants up to three health days off without requiring doctors’ notes, while offering unlimited sick days, 21 vacation days, and 30 days of emergency leave if relatives need care. But when Facebook gave parents 10 extra weeks off this year, while suspending their stringent performance reviews, many non-parent Grumblestiltskins recoiled, claiming it was “unfair.”
As one of the corona-privileged – old enough to have kids on their own, yet young enough not to be too corona-vulnerable – I empathize deeply with my friends with younger children. My peers and I frequently discuss how trying this period has been for them – and imagine what it would have been like for us, with our kids, no matter how charming, locked down for months. We help our friends with young children however we can – cutting whatever professional breaks we can for them. So watching such selfishness, jealousy, smallness, in America’s flagship corporations is upsetting.
Upsetting yet not surprising.
Contrasting parents and their childless peers is an age-old pastime. One Jewish classic describes two brothers sleepless at night during harvesttime. The childless one worries that his brother has so many mouths to feed. The one with kids worries that his unmarried brother will be alone when old. Each one sneaks out to move some wheat from his pile to his brother’s. So the piles mysteriously remain equal. It happens again. On the third night, the two brothers collide, understand the magic, and embrace.
Tradition teaches that Solomon built the Holy Temple on that hill epitomizing brotherly love. Some reverse the story, with each brother stealing from the other, then joke: “On that spot, Israelis built the Knesset.” Now, we will update it to mourn: “On that spot Silicon Valley took root.”
THAT’S NOT the America I grew up in. I’m too much the historian, chronicling brigands and cheats, not just heroes and saints, to overly romanticize America at any stage. Still, I was surrounded by shirt-off-your-back kind of people. Especially this week, as I mourn the loss of two of my parents’ closest friends – Morty Panzer three months ago and his wife, Barbara, last week – I salute the upright, generous role models of my childhood.
The Troys and the Panzers bonded at Champlain Colony, a bungalow colony attracting schoolteachers six hours north of “the city” – they couldn’t afford the Catskills’ scene.
Over 100 people lived for two months in ramshackle wooden huts, sharing one communal telephone, by Lake Champlain’s polluted waters. It didn’t matter. We were steeped in bigheartedness and a selflessness these chip-on-your-shoulder techies cannot imagine. It was instant family, community for life, intertwining people with limited means but unlimited hearts. They didn’t just distract one another for the summer – they took care of one another till their dying breaths.
DURING THESE polarizing times, it’s tempting to say “The fish stinks from the head down” and blame the techies’ selfishness on the corrupter-in-chief, the grabby, greedy, graceless egomaniac occupying the White House. But those techies are overwhelmingly Democrats – and aggressively woke. Studies estimate that 87% of Facebook employees’ political contributions and 100% of Twitter’s bankroll left-wingers. Even Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey called his company so liberal that conservatives “don’t feel safe to express their opinions.”
Hipster careerists are often as self-involved as Trumpians: they just mask it better. The Marxist-infused woke culture – forever cultivating your sense of injury, branding any disagreements “violent,” and canceling deviants – is Hobbesian, dog-eat-dog, asserting dominance by affirming your victimhood. When fused with go-getter Western culture and consumer culture’s hyper-individualist me-me-me, my-my-my, more-more-more, now-now-now graspiness, monstrous narcissists proliferate, not just creative capitalists.
Awash in cash, Silicon Valley can usually bribe everyone into cooperating. But the slightest glitch, the first mild, totally justified, “inequities” awoke too many techies’ inner spoiled brats, insensitive to the pandemic’s challenges.
This is not a lazy political commentary saying everyone’s equally rotten.
Instead, it’s a wall-to-wall call to spiritual arms, moral buildup, communal reformation. Always blaming your political rivals for our problems is cheap – and tedious. This Jewish New Year, may we transform the irresponsible culture of finger-pointing we have mastered – Left and Right – into a culture of breast-beating. Beyond scrutinizing our values, impulses and actions, teshuva – repentance – requires a deeper dive. Let’s scrutinize ourselves politically, culturally, communally, structurally – asking: how do we raise armies of shirt-off-your-back givers, not chip-on-your-shoulder whiners and takers?
Fortunately, Jews have a liturgy, a tradition, a library, a civilization, a conversation stretching back millennia, encouraging self-reflection, then solidarity, then magnanimity. Calling these spiritually stretching moments “High Holidays” distracts us, focusing on what we wear, what we eat, what we can’t do this corona-cursed year. Calling them “Days of Awe” nurtures humility, sensitivity, empathy – and excitement about this year’s spiritual opportunities.
And seek inspiring role models, people like the Panzers and my late mother and still-strong father. They didn’t see every pie as limited, fearing everyone else’s slice as diminishing their take. Viewing the universe as ever-expanding, they believed more is more – the more you give, the more you get. Forever giving, they absorbed America, Judaism, life at their best.
The writer is the author of The Zionist Ideas, an update and expansion of Arthur Hertzberg’s classic anthology, The Zionist Idea.