2017-09-13 / Voice at the Shore

Healing our future together in the New Year

By GERALD R. FOX Rabbi of Temple Beth Shalom in Brigantine

RABBI GERALD R. FOX RABBI GERALD R. FOX Like many of you, my heart has been worn down by words and behavior that have me troubled. As we meet the New Year, we take stock of where we are and where we are headed, which has become ever more pressing of late for the Jewish community.

Our country has had difficulty facing the truth about our obligations and our responsibilities to each other many times in our history, but we can take heart in the fact that we have made great progress when we examine the long arc of our national journey.

At times, such as one that has arisen in recent months and years, we find a rise of anti-Semitism and racism and xenophobia that have real and harsh impacts upon us and upon our neighbors. Recent events, in particular, bear witness to the fact that one needn’t be a minority to be weighed down by the anchor of hate. We are all negatively affected by the evil of detachment when it is allowed to infect the tableau of our community and our nation.

Despite these concerns, my heart remains full—I know that oppressive and hateful speech and behavior cannot win if we do not let it.

I am reminded of the words of our sage, Hillel, who directed us “not to separate yourself from the community.” How do we fulfill this? The answer is also found in the Mishnah, a few verses before: Yehoshua ben Perachiah said: ‘Make for yourself a mentor, acquire for yourself a friend and judge every person as meritorious.’”

Engaging with the world in a bid to make it better begins with this simple act: When we see others as worthy to counsel us, we become connected with them. It is then that we begin to see others, not as objects or “the other,” but instead as being a part of who we are in the world.

Without engaging, we objectify. With engaging, we become inextricably linked and part of something greater than ourselves. This is among the holiest of acts: To care for the welfare of others.

Sometimes, we need a marker to find our way. In this case, we must remember one of the earliest descriptions of holiness in the Torah that have echoed across millennia; namely, that the first human beings were created, “B’tzelem Elohim,” in the image of God.

We are, therefore, divine beings. When we see ourselves this way, when we understand our true nature, we can begin to see others—both alike and different— as worthy of the sanctity with which we communicate intimately with God. We do not yell at God or call God names or lash out to injure God (were it possible). We speak soft words and perform loving gestures to honor the closeness, the bond, we feel. We strive to do the same with our loved ones and we should do the same with our neighbor.

In such worrisome times, our heritage directs us to engage with the strength that love and personal commitment bring us. We need to remain connected to one another.

And so, I encourage you to come to attend synagogue services and events, to get involved in and to offer your time to your congregation and Jewish institutions, and to support programming and our neighbors in the greater Jewish community and in the wider world.

One of the strongest antidotes we have to anti-Semitism, from wherever it may come, is building stronger communities that are simultaneously integrated into the fabric of our local and national civic community.

I look forward to joining you, with a renewed engagement, as we meet the New Year with healing and not hate. Let us challenge ourselves to unlock the best of who we are now and in the future. May we all go from strength to strength.

L’Shanah Tovah U’Metukah — May you have a good and sweet year to come!

(Rabbi Gerald Fox is the spiritual leader of Temple Beth Shalom and President of the South Jersey Board of Rabbis. This article is based on a letter he sent to congregants) 

Return to top