It’s a new year. So why don’t I feel any different than I did a few days ago?
Perhaps because, unlike the Jewish new year, the secular date change is just that, nothing more. There’s no psychological preparation, no days of prayer and introspection. Just an evening of champagne, funny hats, noise makers and fireworks. Not that there’s anything wrong with those things. It’s just that they’re not conducive to spiritual growth and change.
The world doesn’t suddenly change when the date changes, whether it’s on the secular calendar or not. The good and the bad things are still with us. Especially, these days, anti-semitism.
The disturbing incidents of anti-semitism in America and world-wide have not only continued, they have increased. The Associated Press reports that since the kosher grocery store shooting on December 10, there have been 19 anti-semitic incidents in the US, 16 of which were in the greater New York/New Jersey area. Many involved assaults or threatened violence… or real violence, as happened at the rabbi’s home in Monsey during Hanukkah.
I could give you lots more statistics, but that would be silly. We all know what’s going on. The important question is: what should we do?
It is helpful to think about the holiday that just ended. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote today, “Hanukkah tells us not to curse the darkness, but instead to bring light to the world. It tells us to fight back and not to be afraid.”
He is giving us two tasks: To bring light into the world, and to fight back. We bring light by being strong and proud and public. Hanukkah is over, but we still need to symbolically put our menorahs in the window.
We bring light by continuing to celebrate our religion freely and openly. We bring light by telling our story, by interacting with the larger community, both religious and secular. We bring light by aligning with those who are our friends, who wish us well and want to help us thrive and survive.
We need to know that we are not alone. This weekend I am partnering with an Episcopalian church and the local mosque for a series of talks at our congregations about Abraham in our three traditions. It is the beginning of what we hope will be a long and mutually beneficial relationship.
And we fight back by protecting ourselves, by doing whatever we need to make sure that we remain safe while at prayer and in community celebrations. As Rabbi Sacks puts it, we must “develop habits of vigilance.”
Haters will always hate. That’s a reality. And sick, lonely, broken people will continue to turn to the dark corners of the internet for “community” and the sickness will continue to spread.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t make this year better than last year, if people of conscious work together, cross artificial barriers, and reach beyond our comfort zones to create new alliances and friendships.
“We only have one life. Why not use it to make the world a better place?” I heard this from a Holocaust survivor named Ruth, on her 100th birthday. Truer words were never spoken.