My heart is broken and I am afraid.
A woman came in today to ask me questions that I ask myself. How are you keeping your spirits up? What do you think we are facing? What should we be doing about this? The "this" is the slide into dangerous conditions for Jews and other minorities. The "this" is the deteriorating conditions of life itself on this beleaguered planet.
There is no exact quote in the Talmud for "this." The many sources of wisdom in the Jewish tradition offer us advice for how to live, how to value life. But the absurd, cruel, divisive conditions we are facing today are better addressed by Jewish history than Jewish wisdom. We are in 1939 Germany. I am a rabbi. You are a community of Jews and fellow travelers. It's bad. It can happen here and it is happening here.
The United States of America is running a string of concentration camps across our southern border with zero access to information about conditions of the men, women and children there.
Neo-Nazis - in the literal sense of New Nazis- interrupted a Holocaust commemoration with chants of "Six Million More."
Jews, Muslims, Christians are shot and killed at worship. Children, shoppers, theater goers are shot and killed at their daily activities.
And the ticking clock of environmental disaster affects more and more sectors: the seas, the farms, the storms. Food and water shortages and local weather related disasters only add to the mounting stress we are living with.
Our civic dialogue is utterly deadlocked. We speak past each other in rhetorical phrases on issue after issue.
I am sorry to trigger you with these lists. Overwhelm and despair do not help us. Rising blood pressure does not help us. The stress response does not help us.
The woman did not get an answer for me about what to do. She got affirmation and connection from me, because I too am heartbroken and afraid.
We all face the abyss of death, whether individually or collectively. How do we want to live?
Framed this way, the woman said "Joy!" She talked about loving the hills of Deerfield and the many new experiences she wants to embrace at this stage of her life. She mentioned some of the toxic habits and relationships she was liberating herself from. She said how much joy she gets from the volunteer work that she does, from caring and helping.
I shared two other tools with the woman. Come to services! We really can be nourished together from our connection to a higher source. And I encouraged her to keep her eyes on the truth. Use the right words to describe what we see. Call out abuse and cruelty. Don't use soft words to describe hard things.
I said before that the Talmud doesn't have a quote for this time, but there might be one. We are supposed to avoid despair and to consider that the world is always in a state of balance - good and evil being even. And that our next act, our next word, our next emotion will tip the balance...this way or that.