In the Jewish year 5774, the world’s Jews were confronted with a sense of their own power, and vulnerability. Israel faced down an enemy’s threats with a combination of cutting-edge technology and military might. Its civilians lived through the trauma of near-constant missile warnings, but suffered few casualties thanks to the Iron Dome and their own preparedness. And somehow, owing to the perverse calculus of “asymmetric” warfare, a military victory managed to make Jews feel vulnerable in the court of world opinion.
In Europe, Jews were subject to verbal and physical attacks on a scale not seen in years. In some ways, the Diaspora has never felt more secure, with few Jews in need of rescue and fewer “at-risk” Jewish populations than ever before in history. And yet the vicious targeting of Jews, ostensibly in protest of the “Zionist aggression,” showed how fragile is this sense of security.
Security and vulnerability are the twin poles of the Yamim Nora’im, the Days of Awe. On Rosh Hashana we celebrate the blessings of the year just past and the one to come. At the same time, we prepare ourselves for the judgment that is said to come on Yom Kippur and consider “who shall live and who shall die.” And yet despite this yearly rehearsal of death in life, and life in death, world events still have the power to knock us for a loop.
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, suggests how we can reconcile our security and our vulnerability. Our strength as a people comes not from a feeling of invulnerability nor self-righteousness, but from a tradition that insists “that life is holy, that death defiles, and that terror in the name of God is a desecration of the name of God.” Israel is strong, and the Jewish people persist, because they have never let their fears overwhelm their desire to embrace life.
May all of us — our families, the people of Israel, and Jews throughout the world — be written in the Book of Life.