A friend’s teenage granddaughter recently asked me for help in developing an outline for a summer school essay titled “Don’t Laugh at Dragons.” After pondering the question for several minutes, we generally agreed on how to proceed.
We came to the conclusion, for instance, that the assignment did not refer to the mythical fire-breathing creatures of yore. Instead, we thought of the many historic, biblical, and present-day “dragons” that we have encountered and continue to encounter on a daily basis about which we cannot nor must not laugh. The youngster tore from a school notebook two sheets of paper on which we wrote our separate lists of past and 21st-century nemeses. Surprisingly, our lists were pretty similar.
She quickly jotted down our people’s slavery in Egypt, the Spanish Inquisition, and, of course, the Holocaust, whose perpetrators, to her way of thinking, were more dangerous than any dragons, real or mythical. “And what about Israel’s early struggles for survival: the Six-Day War and Yom Kippur War and the bombings, rockets, and knifings that still occur in our Jewish state?” she asked. “Israel and the Jews,” the bright young woman continued, “still are in a constant struggle for survival on the ground, from the air, and in foreign capitals and at the UN.” She also mentioned the murders of the Israeli athletes at the Olympics in Munich in 1972.
Then her list focused on the present. Among her list of modern-day “dragons” were poverty and income disparity; hatred for and fear of others whose dress, language, and mannerisms are different from ours; incurable diseases and illnesses that affect our minds and bodies; the degradation of our environment; random killings and brutality; wars and genocide.
The teenager, incidentally, added one of more dragons that she will have to face: the high cost of attending college, which she plans to do in a few years. Our respective lists, of course, were much longer than those mentioned above.
Yes, we cannot nor must not laugh at, forget, or overlook our historic and modern “dragons”; neither should we fear them. Today’s teenagers and tomorrow’s adults — supported by their parents, grandparents, counselors, and teachers — must be prepared to face all challenges and not fear failure. We must seek an end to poverty and income inequities and intensify the search for the prevention of and cures for diseases that continue to plague humankind. We must protect and preserve the environment in a way so as not to hamper legitimate growth and development, and we must work to ensure that young people are able, with no regard to color, religion, ethnic background, or economic standing, to use their minds, talents, abilities, and their hands in a manner best suited to bettering the world.
And as Jews we must keep in perspective our past afflictions so that we won’t allow future Inquisitions, Holocausts, Munich massacres, and other crimes against humanity from happening again here, in Israel, and anywhere in the world.
“Dragons” are not mythical; they are real, take many forms, and continue to breathe fire on our society. They exist not to be laughed at or feared but to be challenged. We must continue striving to harness our respective and collective energies and utilize our intellects and hands-on God-given skills in order to transform our planet into one that will be safer, healthier, and happier and more secure than it is today.
Then we all will be able to laugh, not at the mythical fire-breathers but as inhabitants of a wonderful world in which future generations may live in peace and harmony — a world free of all sorts of real or imagined monsters.