It is usually a toddler that symbolizes a new year, but 5773 will be a year for grown-ups. Experts speculate about war with Iran. Yet in these next weeks it will all be inscribed, war or peace, as well as the future for all of us on a more personal level.
This is a year when, as in all years, the pivotal news for which we’ll be inscribed will not be political but the personal. Our prayers will surely have more to do with our children, our health and our spirituality. The news of the year, far from the headlines, is the truth that families and neighbors are helping each other out; so many synagogues, Jewish schools and Jewish neighborhoods are doing well, coming together in hard times; and in Israel, daily life is all the more vibrant, in defiance of existential threats. If we are to be saved, individually and collectively, based on our prayers, charity, grace and action, as the Rosh HaShanah liturgy recommends, then for all our flaws, our defenders in the Heavenly court have much evidence in our favor.
Unfortunately, as for so many Americans, too many of us slipped out of a financial comfort zone, scraping by, at best. In Israel, every third child is living below the poverty line. Here in New York, reports this year’s UJA-Federation of New York population study, poverty stalks the elderly and deprivation closes in on the middle class. Socially, our population is growing, and yet we’re subdividing even faster. According to the population study, a quarter of us aren’t raising Jewish children or simply see our Jewishness as an ethnic fact, with whatever Jewish activities remaining occurring solo. Fewer of us are Reform or Conservative, more of us are Russian, Sephardi, or fervently Orthodox — where 63 percent are poor or near poor.
Nearly 500 rockets fell on Israel in the past year, several in the past week, crashing through rooftops, closing schools and terrifying children. Almost none, if any, of those rockets — each traumatic in the neighborhoods where they fell — aroused any outrage, or even interest, among most American Jews. (And yet, a 12-year-old girl from Manhattan was so moved by the bombs falling on Sderot that she created a knitting club with girls in that embattled southern Israeli city — an attempt to stitch up their wounds.) There was a lot of talk about whether to boycott Israelis living in the settlements — once a heretical idea, to boycott another Jew. And when it comes to the big communal tent, the old fundamentals of what constitutes dissent or support were sorely tested in the past year, and the debate will likely intensify.
With Syria in turmoil, and the Arab Spring collapsing into a vortex of violence and anti-Zionism; with Europe increasingly anti-Semitic, from the violence in France to the outlawing of brit milah in Germany, and anti-Zionism increasingly normative across the continent, there were times this past year when a person could be forgiven if thinking that if it wasn’t for bad news we’d have no news at all.
And yet, as in all years, there was good news — even great news, or sort-of great news: Gilad Shalit was freed after five years of torture, though his freedom came with the price tag of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, many of whom were terrorists and murders, released to wreak havoc again.
And good news at the United Nations, as the Palestinian statehood bid, thought to be inevitable Palestinian victory, was thwarted, with Israel being far from alone in opposition.
And good news out of Houston (or was it out of “Hoosiers”?), when a yeshiva high school, the Beren Academy, overcame Shabbat scheduling discrimination to win the semifinals, only to lose in the finals of the Texas state tournament for private schools.CitiField
And good news emanating from Jews of all denominations — and no denomination at all — who are creating and developing new forms of independent minyans that are expanding the sense of what a congregation can be.
It was a year in which our passions, for worse or better, were of such magnitude that stadiums were needed to contain the multitudes. More than 40,000 haredim filled the Mets stadium,Citifield , for the singular purpose of expressing their fear of the Internet. More than 90,000 filled Met Life Stadium in the Meadowlands to celebrate the completion of the seven-and-a-half year Daf Yomi (daily Talmud) study cycle, likely the largest number of Jews coming together for prayer and holy purpose since the Second Temple.
And when the population study noted our poverty and pressing social needs, our Jewish charities and social agencies responded with an energy and urgency that said, yes, all Jews in trouble are our family, no matter what they look like or where they come from.
Far from the front page, families and neighbors are helping each other out. So many synagogues, Jewish schools and Jewish neighborhoods are doing well, coming together in hard times. In Israel, daily life is all the more vibrant, in defiance of existential threats. If we are to be saved, individually and collectively, based on our prayers, charity, and repentance, as the Rosh HaShanah liturgy recommends, then for all our flaws, our defenders in the Heavenly court have evidence in our favor.
We are living in times of darkness and uncertainty, but as Dylan sings, “the lights of my native land are glowing.” We just have to know where to look.