This musing is dedicated to the memory of Art Buchwald, z"l.
And in that spirit, I commend to you my Monty-Pythonesque musing from last year, "Why Tomorrow?"
I face the same question still today, and the fuel and sustenance I provided myself through that musing is wearing thin. So I thought I would take another look, see if I can reinforce my sagging spirits and conquer my rising cynicism.
In 2000, I wrote:
"Our Holy Torah tells us that when Moshe told B'nei Yisrael that G"d would redeem them, they "would not listen to Moses, their spirits crushed by cruel bondage." (Ex. 6:9 JTS) (lo sham-u el Moshe miqotzer ruach u-mei'avodah kasha)
We live in an era of receding boundaries. Our willingness to stand up for what is right has been hammered into submission through decades of political correctness and tolerance and over-saturation from noise and images, and commercially-induced cynicism. Each and every day our tolerance of bad behavior, poor service, unfair practices, violence, oppression, hate, substandard work and products, etc. increases, dulling our ability, willingness and even interest in working to change what we perceive as immutable.
I, too, despair of the world situation. I, too, have a "crushed spirit" and a cynical attitude. For many, this translates into abandonment of religion, as proof that G"d is powerless to stop the madness. For me, at one time, the effect was exactly the opposite. It had drawn me deeper into Judaism, study, and religious practice."
Once again, I am in despair of the world situation. Our president is practicing escalatio on the Iraqis (it's a Tom Lehrer quote.) I am hoping that by reviewing my own words from 2000, I can help counter the renewed effects of a world gone mad. Then again, that was a pre 9/11 world. A pre war in Afghanistan and Iraq world. A pre Darfur world. A pre nuclear North Korea world. Still, perhaps I can find some hope.
In 2000 I wrote:
"Hope. Hope is what religion is all about. A place for hope. A space for hope. I recall a final paper I was required to write for a theology class. As I worked with a TA to help me hone my thoughts, we discussed what I perceived to be the ultimate purpose of theology. In the end, we came to see that, for me, theology is ultimately about providing a place for hope.
Reading how the B'nei Yisrael fail to hear to G"d's promise through Moshe, one sees how hope can easily be strangled. So despairing were the people that they could not even hear Moshe's words. When we close our ears to the din around us, we also close it to that "still small voice" and to the chance of hearing Elijah's voice make that long-awaited announcement. When we close our eyes to the evil that perpetuates in our society, we also close them to visions of a repaired world. Worse yet is when we go about with our eyes open, ignoring what we see, believing we cannot change it, or that it will never change. When we fold our arms tight and turn our backs to all the madness, immorality and lack of righteousness in despair and frustration and hopelessness, we exclude ourselves from participating in the process of tikkun olam. "
I think I'm right. To just sit here and brood over Dubya's war, about genocide in Darfur, about Israel electing a government more inclined to make peace and the Palestinians electing Hamas to lead them, about how Israel has become so like the U.S. that it blew the summer conflict with Hezbollah, and so on and so forth does little except make me more sullen and depressed. There must be a way out of all this mess.
In 2000, I wrote:
"For those who have given up on G"d, there is naught that I can offer to them.
But for those who still have a place in their theology for hope, look at the Exodus story. Discouraged by decades of slavery and oppression, the B'nei Yisrael were deaf to Moshe's words and G"d's promises. G"d could just as easily have said, "OK, fine. Not interested? I'll just pick some other people and go save them instead." But G"d did not do that. G"d had made a promise to us. And even though we were (and still are) quite remiss in holding up our end of the covenant, G"d still redeemed us. G"d did just as G"d said and brought us out of Egypt with an outstretched arm and wonders. That is a message of hope to the discouraged.
Yes, it has been many thousands of years since G"d did anything like this for us, the covenanted people. History, and particularly that of the last half of the 20th century has seen plenty of opportunity for G"d to work wonders and free Israel from its oppression. Maybe we are looking for the wrong miracles?
We've been pretty destructive as a species-to ourselves, one another, and our planet, and in the midst of it all the children of Israel have suffered greatly. Still, humankind has not blown itself up. The evil that was Hitler was defeated. A new Israel arose and is finally on the verge of peace."
Ah yes, that's me, Mr. Pollyanna. Mr. "Always look on the bright side of life." Mr. "Every cloud has a silver lining." He's always there, inside me, and manages to make appearances when I need him most. Yet I begin to weary of the platitudes. I do not know how much longer my inner Pollyanna will be able to sustain.
In 2000 I wrote:
"Maybe the last 3500 years or so have been an extended version of more plagues being visited upon those who would challenge G"d. Each time, it appears, humanity's heart was hardened, and yet we refused to hear and obey G"d's command. What final plague will it take for humanity to finally acknowledge G"d and let G"d's people go to be what they were intended to be and live in the universe that G"d wants to build for us and with us."
It was a nice idea at the time. Yet the plagues continue. And the source that had become the support beneath my hope, this thing we call Judaism, has started to fail me. Each and every day I wake up determined to work hard to insure the continuity of Judaism and the Jewish people, through education. And each and every day, that task becomes harder. I see the interest of students and adults alike waning. I see their commitment faltering, and the balance shifting ever more towards a life in which Judaism, the synagogue, religious school, etc. play little, if any, part. The in-reach that Arthur Herzberg (z"l) always championed may turn out to be the right way to go. Yet I am not yet willing to give up on stemming the tide of exodus, and trying to reverse it.
Yes, I do have hope. I spend lots of time on the internet and the web. I like to observe the latest trends and happenings. I read blogs, and I blog myself. All around the world, young Jews are finding news ways to be Jewish, new structures, new connections. Though many might hate to admit it, the age of the synagogue, and the big national Jewish organizations may be drawing to a close. What will replace it? Can it be replaced? What would a non-synagogue-centered Jewish religious school look like? How would it work?
Or are the anti-cynics right in saying that when today's generation grows older and has kids, they'll find it easier to fall back on the existing structures within Judaism like synagogue, JCC, and Federations, rather than to try and maintain this new form of Judaism that is evolving. And then I must ask myself the question whether I would despair more at the the failure of the new Judaism or the death of the old? It's a tough question. I make my living in the synagogue world-yet I think I am beginning to champion and espouse a post-synagogue/Federation/UJC Judaism, even though I may never be able to earn a living from it. Still, it is a ray of hope for a different, and possibly brighter, future.
In 2000, I wrote:
"Hope. What a sweet word. Just like B'nei Yisrael in Egypt, we Jews have suffered from years of oppression. Yet, like them, we are still here. What we are not is "hear," just as they were. The hopeful thing is to believe, as I do, that even when we aren't listening, G"d is there, and G"d will keep the covenant. An even more hopeful (and enterprising) thing to do is to open our eyes, our eyes, our hands, our hearts and, working together with each other as partners with G"d, bring about tikkun olam. If we turn our crushed spirits into hopeful and determined ones, think how much more we might accomplish."
In 2007, the ever more cynical me says "now, G"d, would be a good time to act, do something to reassure my faith. I do not have the patience of my ancestors." But G"d acts on G"d's timetable, not mine. (Yes, I accept that, but it still sucks.)
In 2007 I write:
I'm listening G"d. It's getting harder and harder. I'll keep trying, I really will. Help me find and renew my hope. Help me overcome my crushed spirit. Help us all to overcome our crushed spirits.
Yet if I'm honest with myself, I know that it's not up to G"d, it's up to us. We must work to turn our crushed spirits into hopeful ones, as our ancestors did. So, in the end, what I wrote in 2000 remains true:
The choice is ours.Shabbat Shalom,
©2000, 2007 by Adrian A. Durlester
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