Jews can be beaten, broken, and exiled but we can never be destroyed. Despite, or maybe because of, the increasing tensions related to the spate of attacks on Jews in and near Jerusalem, that is the message I choose to take away from the Yom Tov season that just passed.
It started for me on Rosh Hashanah and developed from there. I am not sure why it is this year’s message, but for me it is.
Given such occurrences as the shift of Western powers toward Iran, the growing support of the BDS movement, and the escalating push for Palestinian statehood, Jewish endurance is a theme that is important to hold on to.
Despite concern, I am soothed by our historical resilience and endurance. Just look at Jewish history. The story of our survival is clear and robust: Try as our enemies might to destroy our beliefs, our spirituality, our moral code, and our very lives, we have always been, and will forever remain, a moral, cultural, ethical, and religious force to be reckoned with.
A corollary of this theme is that the Almighty tests us only after He has given us the strength to cope with the ensuing struggle. Proof is that against great odds we survived the Crusades, the Inquisition, ghettoization, even the Holocaust.
This message works for me. More than that, it empowers me when the threat comes from outside our tent. The threats of another Holocaust, rocket barrage, or knife attack are all very real and can be overwhelmingly frightening.
We may get hurt but we are resilient, knowing we will somehow persevere. It is in our DNA – particularly if we have faith in the power we possess as a unified nation.
One of the basic factors providing individuals the strength to be resilient is the knowledge that despite hardships we can rely on one another – our families, our communities, and our co-coreligionists – to confront and triumph over the challenges we face.
So I do not, as mentioned, worry about the external threats. We will find a way to overcome whatever others try to do to us.
I do, however, worry about the internal threats.
These hazards are of our own making. They are in part due to a degree of complacency and in some situations outright complicity. Take, for example, how we deal with sexual abuse. While it is true that a hundred prominent rabbis recently signed a declaration that abuse should be reported to secular authorities, there remain many abusers who are protected by their rabbis. There are also rabbis who have abused and are being protected by their followers.
I worry about the increasing divisiveness in our communities I see. Rather than building on a sense of inclusiveness, we reject people who share our basic beliefs but do not always follow our specific rigidities.
I worry about people arguing over minor – even meaningless – differences that lead to a weakening of community resources and communal bonds; we all know the old joke the punchline of which goes “That’s the shul I do not go to.”
And I worry when I see people reject others because of disabilities or disorders.
Yet these transgressions against our unity occur daily.
We forget the injunction “In multitudes there is glorification of the king” (Proverbs 14:28) – i.e., our beliefs and heritage are glorified when we come together as a large assemblage, each of us with his or her own unique quirks and ideas.
Our self-centered desires drive us to be exclusionary at the expense of our longevity as a nation, a culture, and a religion that has lasted millennia.
I am not surprised when The New York Times misconstrues reality and turns veracity on its head by blaming us, the victims. But I am distressed when we do it to ourselves. And I am even more distressed when I see us not taking the correct and healthy actions that can heal us and bring us together.
When internal threats are not checked, they gain traction and become increasingly devastating. If, on the other hand, we utilize our faith and ethical teachings for greater introspection, learning, self-growth, and care for one other, our resilience will remain strong and everlasting.