Searching for meaning from an unsettling year

Searching for meaning from an unsettling year

Irma. Harvey. Charlottesville. They are the names given to three extraordinary and deadly events, which all happened in the last few weeks. And that’s only a small part of the past chaotic year — in our politics, in our society and in our environment.

The surprise election of Donald Trump upended much of our nation’s conventional political wisdom, and his presidency has challenged conventional notions of governance. Indeed, while a single political party’s control in both houses of Congress and in the White House would normally herald ideological stability, that hasn’t been the case this year. Rather, Republicans have failed repeatedly to fulfill their promise to repeal and replace Obamacare, while just last week, the president bucked his own party to make a deal on the debt ceiling and disaster relief.

We each may view the foregoing results differently. But no matter where you stand on the issues, it is hard to argue that political dysfunction in our nation’s capital is a good thing for either the economy or our constitutional form of government.

Of course the past year’s disorder was not limited to the political realm. Among other things, we also saw renewed threats of war with an emboldened and nuclear-powered North Korea, the rise in prominence of white supremacists, and a swarm of more than 100 bomb threats to Jewish community centers and schools in January.

All of that makes us nervous. And although the bomb threats turned out to be a hoax perpetrated by a 19-year-old Israeli-American and a copycat who was trying to implicate an ex-girlfriend, they made clear just how vulnerable our Jewish community can be.

But all was not bad. Indeed, some might argue that 5777 was a year of increased unity between ethnic and other identity-based groups. Latinos, Muslims, LGBT people, women and Jews came together in various ways to confront issues stretching from climate change to the president’s planned border wall with Mexico. People of all faiths helped repair vandalized Jewish cemeteries and rallied in support of hurricane relief. And, in the same vein, interfaith rallies, meetings and prayer groups have become more commonplace.

Despite the good news, it is clear that more needs to be done to unite the factions of our own community. Plainly, the American Jewish community does not speak with one voice. And that’s perfectly OK. But on Rosh Hashanah, which begins next week at sundown on Sept. 20, as we search for meaning from the past year, perhaps the lesson for us is that we are stronger and more effective when we work together, and that we need to do what we can to avoid highly charged battles over every issue.

We don’t know what 5778 will bring, but we pray that for our readers and for our community it will be a year blessed by peace, calm and joy. Shanah Tovah to all. PJC

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