Ask not what you can do — do it

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The death of John F. Kennedy Jr. even loomed over the visit of Israel's new prime minister to Washington this past weekend.

Sunday night when it appeared that the rescue mission had turned into a recovery mission, Ehud Barak found himself the center of attention at the largest dinner ever held in the White House during Bill Clinton's presidency.

The somberness of the news was not lost on Barak. In making his toast, he told the 500 guests that Israelis "share America's sorrow tonight. The little boy who sustained your nation and the world in a moment of grief is lost at the high noon of his own promise, with his wife and her sister.

"In their spirit, we continue to ask what we can do for our countries and for the cause of peace."

It's been a long time since we heard a rendition — in any form whatsoever — of President Kennedy's immortal words: "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."

With his son's death, we are reminded of an era in American history when there was a promise of a brighter future and a new world order. In many ways, that new world order has happened. In other ways, we still await the brighter future.

Yet we still are asking what our country can do for us. We want our country to give us better health care. We want our country to provide for us in our old age. We want our country to protect us from crime. And we want our country to do all this while our taxes are lowered.

But what are we doing to help our country, to build a better world in the Judaic principle of tikkun olam?

Many of us are just waiting for someone else to do the job for us. We want to see what Clinton or his successor will do. We want to see what Barak will do. We sit and wait for others to act.

It would be fitting, in memory of Kennedy, that we all practice tikkun olam and take some personal responsibility for making the world a better place.

And let's hope that the people of Israel join their new prime minister in doing what's best for the future of peace in the Mideast.