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Jan. 2, 2024- 21 tevet 5784

12/26/2023 12:16:18 PM


Beginning the year 2024, there is much to be hoped for as members of the Jewish community. Our world and situation are clearly less than ideal, yet each week has moved us farther from the darkness of the recent past. We are, after all, told in the text (Isaiah 42:6):

“I the Eternal have called you in righteousness 

And have taken hold of your hand 

And kept you, and set you for a covenant of the people,

For a light of the nations…”

This is a prophecy that Jews and Jewish communities have sought to maintain through the millennia, in good times and in times of difficulty. In some periods Jewish unity has been forced by external conditions. Always an identifiable minority population of immigrants, strangers to the majority even after multiple generations, autocrats and tyrants have seen in the presence of a Jewish community multiple opportunities. Most of those were used for mischief like funding wars or ensuring the health of the treasury. A few have found reasons to use the interconnection of Jews as a logical tool to achieve diplomatic goals. Sadly, more often than not, the philosemitism of good years has mutated into scapegoating, discrimination, and punishment as challenges to hegemony erode.

In more open and democratic societies, while obstacles have not been absent, Jewish contributions to society, social betterment and growing success in modernity have been the rule. Pushed to social margins Jews have time and again sought opportunities despite obstacles, engaged in high-risk industries, and been in the vanguard of technological progress. We might easily overlook the nexus of Chaim Weizmann’s chemical advance that brought the military use of TNT, the Balfour Declaration, and Zionism which culminated in the establishment of Medinat Yisrael in 1948. Weizmann is not alone in his role, but among legions of scientists—even into the age of computers and artificial intelligence—whose pursuit has been the dissemination of knowledge and achievement of social justice. 

In particular, the linkage of democracy and Jewish wellbeing—as a community—should find resonance in our times. It is true that democracy is often inefficient. Consensus is difficult to achieve in a diverse society. In the USA, where so much of the population shares immigrant roots, where demographic change continues to move goalposts in political and social arenas, we hold a stake in seeing that each minority benefits from a positive attitude toward population growth, economic justice, and social equality. We remain a distinguishable minority yet are overrepresented in many areas. 

Thinking only in terms of here and now it is conceivable that some in the Jewish community find themselves distinctly uncomfortable with the changes of the past half century. The advancing technology has promoted ever greater size of many industries that have made the role of family businesses, individual practitioners and the free professions more tenuous. In the broader view the glass ceiling many encountered in previous generations, the roadblocks to personal success, have been reduced. Secure status in society is a goal shared by many minority communities.

As we start 2024, new challenges are bound to arrive. The carryover from the last months of 2023, during which the stunning increase in antisemitism in the United States has reflected inversely Israeli commitment to the pursuit of the piratical Hamas, Hisbollah, and the evil machinations of Iran not to be overlooked. Neither are the threats to the established order posed by Russian intransigence and military aggression in Ukraine. The borders and boundaries in both these situations are modern, even arbitrary. Yet the integrity of nation-states, the abhorrence of military depredations, and the consciousness of many that these are proxy wars unite into the resolve to focus on the essential, the very survival of the right to self-determination.

If we are to serve the prophetic role—the role I refer to regularly as catalytic, going forward, then as a community, we will need to continue to engage in the work for justice, in the pursuit of equality, in the service of free and fair elections. Our goal should remain research, discovery, and innovation. 

Like Frances Scott Key who wrote in the darkness of Baltimore Harbor under attack in 1812, May this new secular year help us to awaken to real achievement in the cause of liberty. As Amos prophesied (5:24):

“Let justice well up as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.”

Wishing each of you good health, good company, and success in 2024.


Thu, July 18 2024 12 Tammuz 5784