Please excuse any formatting errors. I’m posting from my phone as we travel through New Orleans!

Our Ramat Shalom iServe Group in New Orleans this morning

In a 10 April 2018 Washington Post opinion piece by Megan McArdle, she writes about the importance of social capital, “the network of personal and community bonds that help humans and communities function.”  Our social capital grows as we reach out and do our part to build communities and help lift up those in need. Experts have begun to study the importance of social capital and what they’re finding, according to McArdle, is fascinating. Social capital is important, perhaps more important than financial capital.

The research suggests that the more social capital you have, the higher your standard of living. Prosperity, happiness, trust, economic mobility and voting rates are boosted by social capital. Some of us have lots of social capital, but, as McArdle points out, too many of us have little to none of this important predictor of non-financial wealth.

The Social Capital Project of the Joint Economic Committee has documented that certain areas of our country have more social capital than others.

Social Capital Rates

As you can see, Florida is not doing too well when it comes to social capital. What do we do about this?

McArdle says that social capital “can’t be fixed with a government program, because bureaucracy can’t emulate the social ties that service work creates (or) the norms of civic responsibility that are essential to and reinforced by” those who work hard to help others. McArdle also says that “it seems unlikely that any kind of tax incentive or bully-pulpit exhortation can nudge people” to go out of their way to help heal the world.

McArdle says that we don’t know how to get people to engage in community service and thus build their social capital. I disagree. Tikkun olam (healing the world), tzedakah (pursuing justice) and gemilut hasadim (acts of love and kindness) are fundamental teachings that shape the values of spiritual communities like Ramat Shalom. It’s by committing ourselves to communities like our own that the importance of giving back and lifting others up becomes an integral part of our lives. At Ramat Shalom, not only do we regularly talk about the need to engage in community service, we’re also given numerous opportunities to make a difference and increase our social capital.

As I write these words, Cheryl and I, along with Jaime Fine and Nikki Kopelowitz, are taking several of our iServe teens to New Orleans to work with the NOLA Tree Project, a social service agency that was created post-Katrina to replant and rebuild the Big Easy – and they’re still at it! We’ll be taking part in an urban forestry project today and renovating an inner-city school tomorrow.

A few weeks ago, I shared that Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, when marching with Dr. Martin Luther King, referred to the experience as praying with his feet.   This weekend, a group of Ramat Shalom teens will be praying with their feet, hands, arms, and legs as we dig, plant, paint, hammer, lift and scrub. In doing so, they will live the importance of community service and increase their social capital.

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