Throughout the year, Congregation Beth Sholom and its members strive to live by the Jewish philosophy of tikkun olam, "repair of the world." According to one version of this philosophy's origin, at one time a perfect world shattered and sent shards of creation all over. The world was broken. It is our responsibility to assemble the shards, to raise them to the light. We meet this responsibility through our actions, individually and collectively.
Beth Sholom consistently practices tikkun olam in numerous ways, among them:
• In our East Anchorage neighborhood, we support and host GIFT, a citywide Food Bank of Alaska program that distributes resources to residents unable to purchase Christmas dinners and presents for their families.
• Through the Anne Frank Remembrance Fund, we support programs that promote awareness of modern-day genocide, encourage cultural diversity and memorialize those affected by the atrocities of World War II.
• Through active participation in the Interfaith Council of Anchorage, Congregation Beth Sholom works to broaden knowledge of many faiths and diverse cultures represented in Anchorage.
And once a year, we honor an Alaskan as a "Shining Light," someone whose own life and actions have served to repair our world. This year, the Shining Light falls clearly on Byron Mallott, whose energy and commitment have contributed to justice for, empowerment of, and cultural pride among Alaska Natives.
Alaska enjoys much evidence of Mallott's far-reaching efforts at the local, state, national and international levels. At the age of 22, he served as mayor of Yakutat, and decades later, was elected mayor of Juneau. He served many Alaska governors in myriad capacities, including Gov. William A. Egan, who appointed him Alaska's first commissioner of the Department of Community and Regional Affairs. Byron served as trustee, chair and for five years as executive director and CEO of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation.
But his most profound contributions have been as a Native leader. The Jewish celebration of Passover earlier this month includes a song called "Dayenu," which refers to all that God did for the Jews in delivering them from bondage. Roughly translated it means, "it would have been enough."
"Dayenu" could easily be applied to Byron Mallott's extraordinary contributions to Alaska Natives and by extension to all of Alaska:
• If he had worked with other young Native leaders to secure settlement of Native land claims through the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), it would have been enough.
• If he had led his own regional Native corporation Sealaska in its earliest years, it would have been enough.
• If all he had done was reject the advice of Sealaska's lawyers who urged action that would have doomed the region's village corporations, it would have been enough.
• If he had "merely" instigated a Native solution to one of the thorniest of legal issues contained in ANCSA, the 7(i) revenue sharing provision, it would have been enough.
• If he had only served as the visionary first leader of the First Alaskans Institute, it would have been enough.
• If he had "merely" had the courage, intellect and vision to question and challenge how ANCSA both benefits Native people and fails them, it would have been enough.
Just as "repairing the world" is work never completed, so the Shining Lights recognition of Byron Mallott seeks also to stimulate more ripples of good works out into the world. Our appreciation of his work is meant to inspire us all to do our part. If one man can do so very much, then imagine the possibilities of all of us rising to the occasion, taking our places and repairing the world we all inhabit.
Rabbi Michael Oblath heads the Congregation Beth Shalom in East Anchorage.