I sat down with Helene Fischman, who spoke about the importance of stepping into another’s shoes and two of her inspirations: Hillel the Elder and Martin Buber.
?אם אין אני לי, מי לי? וכשאני לעצמי, מה אני? ואם לא עכשיו, אימתי
I am thankful for the words of Rabbi Hillel (c. 110 BCE-10 CE): “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when? This is a core tenet of Judaism: the first question is about personal voice, the second is about community, and the last is about social action now. I live and teach by this.
Recently, Martin Buber has been popping up on my Facebook. Rabbi Hillel’s questions are like Buber’s I/Thou philosophy. [Note: “Often characterized as an existentialist philosopher, Buber rejected the label, contrasting his emphasis on the whole person and “dialogic” intersubjectivity with existentialist emphasis on “monologic” self-consciousness.”] I think about how I am a white woman, which automatically makes me privileged. For others, being in the minority forces them to see from another’s perspective. If you are in the majority, though, you don’t have to do that. You’ve already “won,” so you’re not expected to have to see from another’s perspective. But you have to know who you are AND how others are. You need to step into another’s shoes. That’s what I/Thou is about. If not now, when?