On first blush, there seems to be little connection between the two seasons foremost on our minds these days: the presidential campaign and the High Holy Days.
Indeed, one seems driven by aggression and cynicism, forsaking openness and honesty for twisting the facts in a way to make one’s opponent seem wrongheaded at best, evil at worst. And the other appears to be about inner reflection, stepping away from the everyday world to reconsider our actions in light of our deepest values and faith.
While many of us have focused our attention in recent days on the presidential campaign and the frightening economic meltdown at home, Israel has been undergoing yet another political and diplomatic upheaval, further splitting the electorate and making Tzipi Livni’s job of putting together a ruling coalition that much more difficult.
My earliest memory of doubt regarding God was as a kid of about 10. As the son and grandson of Orthodox rabbis, my existential moment was not about whether there was a God, though, but rather why He wasn’t doling out more punishment.
As I recall, one of my less observant friends was visiting my house on a Shabbat afternoon, and while we were playing in my room he flicked on the light switch. Having long been taught that such acts were forbidden on the Sabbath, I immediately cringed, waiting for a bolt of lightning to come down from the heavens and strike him.
Jerusalem — How do you explain to an American Jew who hasn’t visited Israel how safe one feels being there? Or that many Israelis really do enjoy their lives, despite the constant tensions they live with every day?
And how do you make an Israeli who has not spent much time abroad understand what “Jewish identity” means to an American Jew? It’s an alien concept to large numbers of people in the Jewish state who have no need to parse the Jewish and Israeli aspects of their DNA, and see themselves simply as Israelis.
Last Wednesday, the day after the elections, Elliot Prager, the principal of Moriah, a Modern Orthodox day school in Englewood, N.J., was approached by a 9-year-old student in the hallway, who asked him if he was afraid.
“Afraid of what?’ I asked,” Prager recalled the other day. “Afraid of Obama,” the child replied. “My Mommy and Daddy told me that he doesn’t like Jews and is dangerous.”
Just back from Israel and reflecting on the Israel-diaspora relationship, and in particular the General Assembly of the United Jewish Communities, held in Jerusalem last week, I am thinking of how we Israeli and Americans keep missing each other.