The call of 5783

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A year ago in our new year message we lamented the continuing restrictions of the pandemic, discussed domestic challenges, focused upon economic concerns, hoped for better education results for our kids and marveled at the creativity and innovation of our synagogues and communal institutions. We looked forward to a possible full return to “normal” in the new year. Unfortunately, 5782 did not live up to those expectations. The relief many of us felt from a lessening of the danger of the virus did not usher in a return to normal.

Instead, COVID continues to haunt us, we feel unease and frustration in multiple trouble spots around the world, we are uncertain about our economy and we are all victims of a deepening domestic political divide. We are divided over abortion. We are divided over guns. We are divided over climate change and the future of our environment. We are divided over voting rights. We are divided over the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election results. And there is more. Many of us are concerned about the future of our cherished republic.

Democracy is generally not a topic for new year messages or high holiday sermons — unless it’s to extol the “American experiment” and the genius of our founders. But this year is different. In fact, one rabbi, Michael Holzman of Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation, recently called on his colleagues to not just extol democracy, but to preach it. There is something to that suggestion, even if we would normally prefer that our rabbis stay away from politics in their holiday sermons.

We are a little more than a month away from this country’s midterm elections. State officeholders at all levels of government will be elected and control of both houses of the U.S. Congress is very much in play. There’s nothing new to that overall construct. But this time around the stakes seem a bit higher, precisely because our country’s political divide is so much more intense and pronounced than in the past.

To be clear, we aren’t suggesting that our religious leaders endorse candidates or promote any political partisanship. But they can help us appreciate the importance of democracy and the creation of a society that we are all proud to be part of. None of that detracts from the importance of issues like communal safety, combating antisemitism, supporting Israel in its own buildup to consequential elections, providing proper education for our children and enhanced focus on caring for our elderly and infirm. But as we enter 5783 and look toward numerous uncertainties in the coming year, we urge focus upon the principles of democracy as a guide to our political future.

As a Jewish community, we are beneficiaries and transmitters of some of the world’s greatest moral, ethical and historical treasures.

As Americans, we are tied to the inspiring history of democracy and all of the good it can generate. Let’s maximize all of those gifts in this new year.

May we all be sealed in the book of life. G’mar chatimah tovah.

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