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Few things are as satisfying or as much fun as a passionate conversation full of disagreement and dispute, be it at a Shabbat table or on an inner-city stoop. This has been a great Jewish sport through the years. A game of chess in Washington Square Park, or tea in a Lower East Side cafeteria, were often accompanied by passionate debates about everything from the Hitler-Stalin pact to the Ladies Garment union, along with colorful and heated Yiddish insults, now sanitized by nostalgia. Cleverness was once valued more than civility.
With the shofar already blowing every morning, with the Days of Awe just days away, with the headlines more ominous than not, it is only natural for us to be feeling vulnerable, as individuals and as a community. Indeed, a major theme of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, let alone the slichot at Elul’s end, is nothing if not our vulnerability.
The Mideast, already roiling with violence and unrest, is about to enter an even darker, more uncertain phase as the Palestinian Authority seeks full membership in the United Nations next week. The prospects are deeply worrying, if not terrifying.
Tisha b’Av (the ninth of Av) is the name that marks the saddest date on the Jewish calendar, recalling the destruction of the Holy Temples. Similarly, the most deadly attack ever on American soil — bringing about the destruction of the World Trade Center, part of the Pentagon, and a more trusting way of life — is commemorated simply by the date on which it occurred: 9/11.
How many of us would risk our life to save another’s? Run into a burning building? Dive into a churning body of water? Fend off an armed thief?
Fortunately, few of us have to face such a test.
On a street corner in Rockland County, a 50-year-old father of four faced this test Sunday morning, hours after Hurricane Irene hit David Reichenberg’s Spring Valley neighborhood, knocking down branches and power lines, flooding roads.
What are we to make of the latest events in Libya, where the feared and hated despot Muammar al-Qaddafi appears to be at the end of his long reign? Will the revolution there lead to unity and democracy or tribal warfare and chaos? And how will Qaddafi’s fate impact on Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, whose continued defiance in spite of calls for his ouster is sure to garner even more attention now as the international spotlight turns to him?