By Dwight Owen Schweitzer
It is the time of year when even the slightest vestiges of Jewishness bloom like the flowers of an arctic spring. To some, that fertile breath of Jewish renewal will deepen the roots and strengthen the branches, to others, their duty done, they will let their religious life whither in the cold world outside and away from the light and warmth that their heritage and their culture offers to those who have come to know the majesty of this gift Hashem has showered upon his people Israel.
Rabbis throughout the world will look down upon a flock that on this New Year’s Day justifies the size and devotion that went into creating that sanctuary wherever it exists in this vast panorama of Jewish life sprinkled throughout the world. They too will feel the hunger of one suddenly offered a feast after learning to subsist on the merest of sustenance for the remainder of the year. To be sure, this is not a universal circumstance for in some synagogues this is but another day, however special. It is likely however that their children’s children might not share the level of commitment shown by their grandparents to the other Sabbaths and holy days throughout the remainder of the Jewish year and therein lays the greatest challenge facing our small band of reluctant nomads whether they are in Jerusalem or Johannesburg. .
While no one could argue that there are many paths to Jewish life and we have never been a ‘one size fits all’ kind of a people, the time is coming when we will need to find the common denominator that will not simply bring us together but will keep us together, no matter the pull of other cultures, religions, cults, or belief systems and yes, the lack thereof as well. It is not enough that we think of ourselves as ‘the chosen people’ for clearly some of the things we have been ‘chosen’ for hold no allure. .
I had a discussion the other day with a well meaning friend who criticized me for publicly taking to task those men who took it upon themselves to seek redress for the victims of the Holocaust, and having met with some measure of success, lost sight of their responsibilities and in the process, the defining tenants of our faith. Instead, they were content to retain control of those funds while there are survivors of the Holocaust who subsist on cat food and in want of the medical supervision and support that might prolong their length of days and improve the quality of their lives. Rather, through the arrogance of a few, they are allowed to remain in oblivion while their self appointed champions plan for the future of the Jewish people. They forget, if they ever knew, that those who survived the camps did so by taking care of each other. To think that those who did not survive would not want those who did to be nurtured by whatever can be recouped is to negate the meaning they gave to their suffering. “I agree with you”, he said “but don’t air our dirty linen in public; keep it in the family.” .
If we are to survive as a people, those of whom I spoke are not a part of our ‘family’ and cannot be. The mindset that motivates them, directs their actions and seeks justification in our traditions and our cultural imperatives for doing so, sets them apart from, and outside of, what we are and must be faithful too. The highest injunction, the one above all else to a Jew is to help ease the suffering of all mankind. Whose suffering should be the loudest and most poignant in our ears if not the weak and aging remnant of the worst calamity to befall the Jewish people in all of our history?
The way to insure that there will always be Jews is to so conduct ourselves individually and as a people, that there can be no greater source of pride in ones life than to be born a Jew. To know that you are a member of that sliver of mankind that has given more sustenance to the world, cured more disease, eased more suffering and, selflessly reached out to those less fortunate regardless of who they were or at what cost or personal risk than any other people in the history of humankind. To live a life of Jewish values whether in or out of the Synagogue is nothing less than a sacred trust for it is the cement of the covenant and our umbilical to the Lord our G-d that has bound us together and kept us together for thousands of years.
With those millions, not just in the 20th century, but throughout our history who endured unimaginable suffering to enable us to be at once humbled and proud of their sacrifice and the traditions that meant more to them than life itself, we too have a covenant. We must not simply insure that there are Jews in the world to keep faith with our martyrs known and unknown; we must live the tenets of our heritage; to seek social justice, self sacrifice, to work for peace, equality, fairness and equity and thereby be enriched by Jewish values every day of our lives. We are a people to whom much has been given and from whom, as the price of that gift, much is expected.