By Hazzan Ben Tisser
These last weeks have been difficult for our country, particularly for the Jewish community. From a ransacked synagogue in Beverly Hills (where, incidentally, I have taught and sung) to a kosher market shooting in New Jersey to a stabbing in a Rabbi’s home in Monsey, this has been a painful time for us. I will share that my morning ritual is to have a cup of Elite instant coffee while watching the last 15 minutes of the 6 AM news before heading to Minyan, and that for the past while I have actually debated in my head whether or not I wish to turn on the TV for fear of more devastating news.
I am not going to use this space to speak against these most recent anti-Semitic acts. The media, our institutions and other organizations are doing plenty of that. I am not going to speak of politics, for that is not my place. What I will write about are two words that, at their core, are very Jewish: faith and hope.
Our entire history as a people has been based on faith and hope. Without faith and hope, we would never have endured centuries of slavery in Egypt, all the while retaining our identity while living and slaving in a land not our own. Without faith and hope we would not have survived the destruction of our Temples or the expulsion from Spain. Without faith and hope, those brave souls who survived the Shoah and those who did not would not have tried with their whole beings to make it through. And without faith and hope we would not have a Jewish homeland in the State of Israel today.
At first glance these words are very similar, but there is an important distinction between them. Faith is the firm belief in what is, and hope is the desire for and commitment to ensuring a better future. Faith grounds us and hope drives us. Faith is what allows us to go to sleep at night peacefully, and hope is what encourages us to set our alarms and make plans for tomorrow.
This week we end a decade. I see lots of Facebook posts and receive greetings from friends of “Happy Secular New Year.” I must tell you that I am bothered by the addition of the word “secular” to the greeting. My grandparents and my father came to this country with hope for a better life for our family—a life in which we could retain our rich and special Jewish identities and at the same time be part of the fabric that is America. When we add “secular” to the greeting, we create a separation between “us” and “them,” and I think that particularly given recent events, we would do well to reconsider that. When we separate ourselves out, even internally, we give permission for “them” to do the same. By virtue of living in this country at this time, we share in the joy of a new year. It is a time for families and friends to be together, for us to watch whomever the new host of the Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve is, and to count backwards from ten as we watch an enormous crystal ball descend where a large Minolta sign was once hung on a New York City skyscraper as millions of people crowd the street below. Yes, it is a time for celebration. It is a time to dream and to resolve. And, it is a time for hope.
I hope that next year will be better—for us, and for the world. And what drives my hope is faith. I have faith in our values, I have faith in our ability to catalyze change, and I have faith in each one of us as a leader in our own circles. If we each take charge of a small, broken corner of the world, as a community we may be able to repair one pane in the large window of the universe…and that will make a difference.
We pray that the memories of those lost to acts of senseless violence and hatred be a blessing, and serve as an inspiration for us to continue the sacred work of tikkun olam, repairing or improving the world. We pray for their families. We pray that those injured will heal, in body and in spirit. We pray that communities directly affected will again find a sense of calm and security.
May the third decade of the 21st century be one of greater peace and stability, of understanding and appreciation of the other. May we know good health, deep love, and only good things. I look forward to seeing you in shul and being able to personally wish each of you a Happy New Year.