While a season of holiday cheer and rededication, the last couple of weeks have left the global Jewish community anxious and gripped by uncertainty. Near-daily Anti Semitic incidents in New York culminated with the horrific machete attack in Monsey. At a party celebrating Hanukkah, a man seized by hatred tried to inject darkness into our Festival of Lights. The question is: will he, and others of his poisoned ilk, succeed?
In our world of social media and hyper connectivity, with the 24 hour news cycle ringing in our ears at all times, we could easily think that Anti Semitic violence lurks behind every corner and every person. And yet, that is not true. Yes, its despicable voice is amplified, but the blessings and safety of this country are unparalleled in Jewish history. Though we have every reason to grow alarmed, to make preparations, and stand vigilant, Rome is NOT burning (nor is New York, or Jerusalem). Even as our eyes remain wide open to the threats around us, hope is the incurable Jewish condition.
Is that not the enduring lesson of the holiday we have just celebrated? Hanukkah teaches us not to curse the darkness, but instead to bring light. It teaches us not to accept intolerance, but to fight back with no fear. Those are lessons that do not end after 8 nights.
Our God-given task of being an or la goyim, a light to the nations, applies to all times, especially those of darkness. Our biblical ancestors emerge this week as our teachers, inspiring us with deeds of courage and conviction. The brothers, Joseph and Judah, repudiate the all-too-easy human traits of jealousy, hatred, and vengeance, emotions that guided much of the narrative of Genesis until now. Instead, they rise up and teach the world the values of forgiveness, family, and reconciliation. The heroism and love they exemplified laid the groundwork for the Jewish values we hold so dear today.
And so, especially today, it is upon us to maintain this Jewish tradition of love instead of hate, blessings instead of curses, life instead of death. Like the 90,000 Jews who gathered a few days ago in New Jersey to celebrate the end of a 7.5 year Talmud study cycle, we too will soon gather to wear our Judaism with pride and purpose.
After 18 months of planning and preparation, the first of two legacy Shabbatot have arrived celebrating our 75 years of lighting up the Jewish map. One week from today, we gather to pray and learn, to celebrate and remember, to create and sanctify — active verbs we have been doing proudly now for 75 years, and which we will continue to illuminate the world with for many years to come.
I look forward to seeing you there!