By Rabbi Boaz D. Heilman
We live in dangerous times, and rather than bickering or fighting we need to face the many challenges that are before us. Social and cultural changes brought about by high tech and the Internet have stirred up a hornet’s nest of instability and uncertainty. The world is going through climate changes that cause massive flooding on the one hand, and terrible droughts on the other. Health crises brought about by new or rapidly evolving viruses are wreaking havoc, while the cost of cures and treatments continues to rise exponentially.
More than ever before, war and terrorism are endangering the entire civilized world, threatening to set back human progress a thousand years or more.
Wider-than-ever disparity between the super-rich on the one hand, and the poor and dispossessed on the other is threatening nations and societies from within, endangering social stability and raising tensions to unprecedented levels.
For us Jews, too, new dangers loom. Less than ¾ of a century since the Holocaust, anti-Semitism is once again on its vile march. The ancient hatred has erupted into violence throughout Europe, while here, in the US, the ugly rhetoric and familiar signs are appearing everywhere, causing fear and alarm among many who thought they have left those behind, as well as among those of us who have never known fear before. The so-called “Alt Right” is vying with the “New Left” in marginalizing and bullying Jews, while the BDS movement, originally meant as a statement directed specifically at the State of Israel, has proven closely allied with virulently anti-Jewish groups and sentiments.
Yet, today the American Jewish community is largely divided among itself, mostly along political lines, but also along religious differences. You’d think we would have learned our lesson by now, but it doesn’t seem so. We blame ourselves. Some of us accuse Israel for the rising hatred, while others turn against one group or another in scorn and deprecation. All the while, however, we ignore the fact that these existential threats, repeated daily by Iran and its collaborators, as well as by anti-Semites along the entire political and social spectrum, are directed against all Jews, regardless of national, religious or political affiliation.
So today, on this Inauguration Day, as Americans, even though we find ourselves deeply divided along socio-political lines, more than ever we need to stand together, as one people. We may be Jews, Christians, Muslims or of any other religion—or even of no religion at all. We may call ourselves Democrats, Republicans, or Independents. But the differences do not matter. What matters is that we all face the same future, the same problems and the same dangers.
In the aftermath of the Holocaust, we Jews took a vow: “Never again!” What we meant by that is that we would never again be placed in the position of victims. For some of us, we have used our newfound courage and strength in defense of our national homeland, Israel. Others have turned their attention to other genocides—in Bosnia, Darfur, and the killing fields of Southeast Asia. Some of us raised our fist and fought against hatred itself, wherever we saw it: hatred of African-Americans, of Muslims, Latinos, the GLBTQ community. We fought against discrimination, prejudice and hatred. We engaged in Tikkun Olam, the ongoing sacred task of Creation. We saw redemption possible through advances we made in social justice, education, medicine, technology and the caretaking of the environment.
So while it is true that the 2016 Presidential election was divisive, ugly and demoralizing; and while it is true that many of us are looking with dismay at the possibility that the Great Society we had worked so hard to build over the last 50 years might face dismantling, we must not hide or run away from what still needs to be done. Rather, we must unite our efforts. Rather than turn against ourselves or one another, we must face the challenges by working together, from within. Where we see that changes must be made, let us be courageous enough to make them. Where we need to build up what we see falling apart around us, we must work from within our system to shore up—not through anger, not through violence, but rather by using the powers that the Founding Fathers built into our system. We may be a nation of many colors and many faiths, but we are, after all, “one nation, indivisible;” and our goals are the same today as they were when they were first formulated: “With liberty and justice for all.”
These are high goals, sometimes difficult to achieve; but the methods we have at hand today have proven true throughout the past. Imperfect though it is, our government is a representative democracy. It isn’t our genes or lineage that determine who will lead us—it’s our vision and courage. What our Founding Fathers have given us is the right to change things. We can vote a person in; we can vote them out. We can run for office ourselves. Or we can contact our representatives and let them know what we know, what we need, what we believe. As individuals, each of us can make a difference in our own life. Together, however, we can do so much more. We can affect history itself.
Our courage stems from our faith and our ideals. Our strength lies in our purpose and in our unity. May God bless America, home of the free.
בשלום עמו את יברך יי׳ ,יתן לעמו עוז יי׳ : May God grant God’s people strength; may God bless us all with peace. Amen.