Celebrating our Jewish values and traditions to salve our divisive times

Celebrating our Jewish values and traditions to salve our divisive times

In 5777 and 5778, it became increasingly clear that anti-Semitism in the U.S., largely lurking in the shadows for several decades, broke out into the open. In 5779, the American-Jewish community finally began to understand — and experience — the manifestation of such baseless hatred.

In 5780 we will pray that the previous years were tragic anomalies — and prepare for the likelihood that they were not.

Seared into our collective memory, on Oct. 27, shortly after the close of last year’s High Holiday season, we were devastated to learn that 11 worshippers at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh were massacred during Shabbat morning services. Exactly six months later, a teenage gunman opened fire during the morning service at the Chabad of Poway in California, killing Lori Gilbert-Kaye and injuring three more, including Brooklyn native Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein.

And less than a month ago, a 20-year-old man was arrested after making threats on social media to carry out a mass shooting at the Jewish Community Center of Youngstown, Ohio, approximately 65 miles north of Pittsburgh.

Yet in the face of such violence and mourning, it’s incumbent on us to maintain our commitment to social action, celebrate our Jewish identity, and openly — with caution, but without fear — express joy in being free to observe the rituals and traditions that have been central to our faith and culture for generations. There can be no greater statement to terrorists and would-be murderers that, just as others have tried to extinguish the Jewish flame for the last three millennia, their efforts will likewise be in vain.

For our annual High Holiday supplement, edited by NJJN contributing writer Jennifer Altmann and in collaboration with our partners at the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey, we acknowledge this apparent, and terrifying, new normal and the steps local leaders and organizations are taking to ensure our safety. But we also delve into topics that are always relevant, such as emotional well-being and how to tap into the inherent spirituality of the High Holidays while enhancing our simcha, happiness, an oft-overlooked requirement of not only Rosh HaShanah, Sukkot, and Simchat Torah, but Yom Kippur as well.

In addition, bureau chief Debra Rubin examines the tradition of multiple members of the same family taking active roles in the prayer services at their respective congregations; contributing writer Michele Alperin considers ways educators can engage the young generations in Jewish practices at home, in addition to the synagogue; and Altmann takes a look at local leaders who use the High Holidays to push people toward community service throughout the year.

And as we flip the calendar from 5779 to 5780, it’s of the utmost importance for us, as Jews, to recognize that even in this age of divisiveness and political polarization — perhaps as intense as any our country has seen since the Civil War — our best chance at overcoming these most recent enemies at our gates is in standing together.

Am echad, One nation. Under God’s eternal, watchful eye.

On behalf of the entire NJJN staff, we wish you shanah tova, a sweet new year, and may we all be inscribed in the Book of Life.

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