City Year is founded upon a specific set or morals and values which are demonstrated through our founding stories. The founding story of The Gift of the Rabbi is one of these stories, a parable reflecting a larger idea which drives our service.
The story begins with a small monastery in the forest, which is deteriorating rapidly. The monks were few, and new members were not coming to convert. The temple was in ruin, and so one of the monks decides to consult the old rabbi living in the forest. After traversing many miles he came upon the old man’s cottage, and knocked on the door. The rabbi answered, and the monk asked him “Rabbi, my monastery is in ruin. There are no new recruits, no resources to rebuild, and no morale among my remaining colleagues. Could you please help us?”
The Rabbi listened intently, and after some thought replies “My friend, there is nothing I can do to help your monastery. But fear not, for the messiah is among you.”
The monk left more confused than before. After returning and telling his fellow monks the rabbi’s words, they all began to speculate. “Who could be the messiah? Could it be brother Elroy? It must be Elroy, or Joshua, even though Joshua has a terrible temperament. It couldn’t be me, could it?” They continued to speculate on who could possibly hold such an immense responsibility, and respect every single member of the monastery as if they were the messiah. After a few months, something incredible began to happen. People passing by the monastery could feel an immense power radiating from it, and so they began to go in and pray. More and more people began attending the monastery, more saw needs of the temple and worked to fulfill them, some felt so compelled by the message of spirituality and peace they decided to join the monk’s numbers. The temple became beautiful once more.
This happens to be my favorite founding story because it emphasizes the importance of respecting one another as if they could be the one to change the world. People tend to think of leaders like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X as a step above the common man, able to accumulate power because that’s what they were born to do. But essentially, both men were perfectly ordinary men, they simply took steps in their lives and sacrificed time and energy into bringing about national change. Great things are done by ordinary people, because ultimately everyone is an ordinary person, and everybody can change the world.
Jacob Leis served as an AmeriCorps Member at Celerity Crestworth Charter School during the 2016-2017 year. He will be attending college at Temple University in the Fall.