2016-12-21 / Religion Column

As the Maccabees did, we too must turn ideals into reality

Adath Emanu- El

Let’s come right out with it: This presidential election divided us. Civil discourse is suddenly at a premium. Social media has become a place for insulated dialogue at best, name-calling at worst. Hardly can we utter politicians’ names without drawing either stark rebuke or lavish praise, with no middle ground. In my lifetime, I have not seen such a gaping wedge between us.

Earlier this month, I was in Washington with our synagogue’s Confirmation class. Here were wide-eyed teens taking in the majesty of our nation’s capital. I saw the city from their vantage point: The Washington Monument rises high over the Mall, a perpetual reminder of the high ideals of our founding fathers. The Jefferson Memorial stands as an enduring tribute to our national story, the vigor of our democracy, and those early leaders who enabled a stronghold of freedom. The Lincoln Memorial reminds us that, indeed, all humans are created equal and deserve a life of dignity.

The teens walked in the footsteps of some of our nation’s greatest figures. They put their hands to the walls of Congress. Their feet marched up the Supreme Court steps. They came away from our trip with even greater enthusiasm for their future, and the innate ability they have to bring change to our world. Just before we left, they spoke with an elected official about the issues that mattered most to them, including Israel and issues around equality.

Many would choose this time in our nation’s history to either hang their head, or lift up their head in a victory dance. I choose neither. And our tradition chooses neither. Most notably, our teens and youth would never want us to choose such options. They are ready to do the work. They want to dig in and make a difference, election year or not. We adults can follow suit. Like Judah Maccabee before us, who also saw an imperfect and damaged world, we too can choose to bring light to those places in need of light.

The Mishnah empowers every one of us to be part of creating a more complete and empathetic society. It teaches: “It is not up to us to complete the work, but neither are we free to desist from it.” We, approaching Chanukah, can do our part to honor the awesome legacy not only of our nation’s founders, but also of Judaism’s patriarchs and matriarchs.

Abraham sought to build a metaphoric bridge from Hagar to Sarah, Ishmael to Isaac. We too have personal bridges to build, between not only political parties, but also religious groups, races, and genders. How can we do that in our own lives? Isaac asked difficult questions of his father. We should each have the courage to ask our officials all the time what they are supporting and why, and whether their voice takes into account not only our own, but those who feel they have no voice, especially the under-represented and downtrodden. Where can we each aim to do this? Jacob wrestled with his role and his very destiny. How can we too strive to wrestle with the issues of the day, never following blindly, but asking questions of our government officials, our media, and local leaders?

As we prepare to light the Chanukah candles, and celebrate our ancestors’ heroism, may we too remember that we have it in us to make high ideals a reality for ourselves and those all around us. As Jews, our task is to be that light, and to forever represent the light of understanding and, very much so, the light of possibility. s

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