Could our news get any worse?
Disappointment and disillusionment seem pervasive. The prime minister of Israel and the president of the United States are engaged in an ugly, ongoing and public personal quarrel with potentially damaging effect on the Washington-Jerusalem relationship. The most powerful and public figure in New York State politics has been forced to step down as Assembly speaker, facing federal corruption charges in a case associated with a number of other Jewish names.
FEGS, one of the largest social service agencies in the country, is forced to close after losing more than $19 million last year. The Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, still recovering from its own scandal after its chief executive went to jail for stealing millions from its coffers, is looking to merge with another social service agency to avoid shutting its doors.
And beyond the confines of the Jewish community the news is grim as well. ISIS boasts of its executions of innocents and the West marvels that the group’s bestial activities bring it more adherents; the possibility looms larger of Iran being on the cusp of producing nuclear arms, with the permission of the U.S.; and anti-Semitism grows more aggressive in 21st century Europe, with French and other Jews weighing whether to immigrate to Israel 70 years after the end of the Holocaust.
Are we to conclude that history’s arc has reversed course, from progress to barbarity?
Jewish tradition reminds us of a piece of wisdom attributed to King Solomon, who is said to have had a ring made that said, simply, “This, too, shall pass.” Moments of pure joy will fade; so, too, times of tragedy. We must maintain our intellectual and emotional balance.
Amidst our very real concerns about the future it is important to remember that despite the worrisome and embarrassing tiff between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu, the U.S.-Israel relationship has faced similar crises over the decades and remained strong; that unlike the horrific years of World War II, when European Jews were fatally trapped, there is a democratic Jewish state willing and eager to accept those who seek its shelter.
The trouble closer to home, geographically, with Sheldon Silver accused of pocketing money illegally, offers up a shameful, though not unique, picture of an influential politician allegedly succumbing to greed. Silver remains innocent until proven otherwise, but the lesson that none of us is above the law seems all too appropriate.
The unexpected loss of millions of dollars last year by FEGS does not appear to involve illegality. Rather, it indicates the difficulty social service agencies face at a time when governments are cutting back funding even as the need for help is increasing.
Some might argue that this dramatic case should lead to a reassessment of Jewish organizations and their priorities in terms of clients outside the Jewish community that they serve. But it would be shortsighted to suggest that we look only to take care of our own. Many communal professionals believe, in fact, that by casting a wide social service net and helping others, the Jewish community is helped in turn.
There are difficult economic, moral and ideological issues to be considered, but reality suggests that the hard discussions take place, openly and honestly.
In the meantime, it is important to maintain faith in ourselves as a caring society and to remember that if we harness our best selves, “This, too, shall pass.”