So the Frenchman says, “I am thirsty. I must have wine.” The German says, “I am
thirsty. I must have beer.” The Jew says, “I am thirsty. I must have diabetes.”
We Jews worry a lot. It’s part of our job description. It’s what we get paid to do.
And there certainly is a great deal to worry about as 2024 begins. The October 7th
pogrom, the war in Gaza along with the global surge in antisemitism, are enough
to keep any of us up at night.
Although my degrees are in philosophy, much of the reading I do is in US history.
And I can attest from the sources I’ve studied that the crises the United States had
to endure as it grew into the nation it is today certainly kept earlier generations of
Americans up at night as well. The military, political, and financial odds of
winning our War of Independence seemed utterly insurmountable at the time.
The Civil War began very badly for the Union, so badly that growing numbers
of Northerners began agitating for a treaty that would simply let the Southern
states go their own way. And World War II also started for the US on a very
discouraging note, as I heard repeatedly from my parents and their contemporar-
ies when I was still young.
Yet, in spite of the darkness that seemed to engross the nation, we endured.
Repeatedly, we met the challenges confronting us and we triumphed.
There were similar reasons for despair as Israel was being established. Right
from the very beginning, the fledgling Jewish nation found itself threatened
from all directions by well-armed neighbors who were firmly committed to
wiping the Jews off the map. But Israel has survived and flourished, even
though each crisis it confronted was profoundly existential and the threat it
posed seemed utterly unique at the time.
When I reflect on these things, I am reminded of the story I once heard about a
Jewish concentration camp prisoner who found a shard of barbed wire on the
ground and sculpted it into the shape of a menorah. I am reminded as well of the
musical fact that the Israeli national anthem, Hatikvah, is composed in a minor
key, which expresses sadness. But the song’s lyrics articulate a hopeful vision of
the Jewish future, thus providing a sense of light amidst the darkness.
I firmly believe that the crises we face today will be surmounted. To succumb to
pessimism and despair is to break faith with the history of our people, which is
replete with miracles of survival. It is to break faith as well as the history of the
one nation on Earth whose Constitution and enduring institutions have provided
us with a haven in which we live our lives as Jews with safety and prosperity.
I wish all of us at Temple B’nai Israel, and the Jewish people worldwide, the
very best for a hopeful and happy New Year.