On Sunday, May 23rd, Dr. Nori Rost delivered another Platform talk at NYSEC — to members only — after which the membership voted to ratify the unanimous vote of the Board to approve Nori as our full-time Leader of the Society.
Nori opened her talk by reminding us that May was Founder’s month, saying “Just shy of the 100th birthday of this nation about one hundred people gathered to witness… the creation of The New York Society for Ethical Culture. It was a bold move by Felix Adler to place humanity’s care into human hands without the tyranny of religion to take responsibility; to be held accountable for safeguarding the inherent worth and dignity of each human…And now we are here together, poised on the precipice of a new chapter in the life of NYSEC.”
She posed these questions to us as we celebrated the 145th anniversary of our founding: “What new path forward might we imagine? What things would we change about our tradition?” reminding us that, “this Society has stood firm and addressed the social and cultural issues of each generation.” and that “It is up to each generation to ask, ‘What does this moment require of us? What do our values demand of us in this moment? What gifts do we have to offer?’”
“Nothing could be worse than a return to normality,” said Nori, “Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.” We can walk heavily through that portal, dragging the old world through it, “Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”
It is up to each generation to ask, ‘What does this moment require of us? What do our values demand of us? What gifts do we have to offer?’
Beginning to answer her questions, Nori said “the first thing we have to offer a city and a world stepping out of the isolation imposed by Covid-19 is connection and community…People long deprived of community will be looking for it…How will we welcome people in?…We have the power of one hand reaching out to another and then to another…In community we have the ability to help people find meaning in this capricious world.”
A second gift we have to offer, she said, is “commitment to creating a new society. A new way….A commitment to justice.” Citing Adler’s words, “Deed before creed,” she quoted him: “‘An optimist is a person who sees only the lights in the picture, whereas a pessimist sees only the shadows. An idealist, however, is one who sees the light and the shadows, but in addition sees something else: the possibility of changing the picture, of making the lights prevail over the shadows.’”
In inspiring rhetoric, Nori intoned, “Having a commitment to justice is not some grim, thankless task. It is an opportunity to dazzle, to blaze, to refuse to accept the gloomy forecast of injustice, marginalization, fear, and hatred — to share the radiance of equity, freedom, peace, and love. That is the gift we have to share.”
“Finally, I believe we have the gift of celebration to share. The gift of good news! Of joy in the journey.” She cited the recent activities across the country of all those who helped get out the vote. Where she lives, every night at a local church the volunteers would gather to count up and announce how many people they had registered that day, “And then the whole crowd would cheer and say, ‘You’re doing a great job! You’re changing the world! Keep up the good work!’” And she asked us to imagine doing that ourselves one Sunday every month, celebrating how many people we’d helped to vote, or collected food donations from, or touched one another with a poem we’d shared.
Nori ended with these words, “We are on the precipice of a new chapter at NYSEC…of a portal into a new way of being. But we will not enter it alone. We bring the rich history of these past 145 years with us. We will step through this portal and create a new reality using the mighty oaks of our history and tradition. And we will continue to cultivate new life that will grow over the next generations… So this Society will continue to have all it needs to rebuild and renew itself to meet the challenges of each generation.”
“You and I will do that together. With gratitude for all who have gone before and anticipation for all who will come after. May it be so.”
We look forward to welcoming Dr. Nori Rost here at Ethical NYC in September.