Rosh HaShanah right on time
Never too soon to end a year marred by tragedy, scandal
Gabe Kahn is the editor of The New Jersey Jewish News.
Let’s just all say it together: How is Rosh HaShanah here already?
It can’t be a year since we said Unetaneh Tokef, since we heard 100 sounds of the shofar in one day, since we symbolically cast our sins into the sea, can it?
And in fact, it hasn’t quite been a full year. In 2017 we celebrated the first day of Rosh HaShanah on the more-appropriate-seeming Sept. 21.
I write to you today from Cape Cod, where my family is renting a house for the week before school starts for the kids. As I sit on the beach by the magnificent, green-ish ocean, staring intently at every swell of water in an exerted effort to will a 15-foot-Great White Shark to breach the surface, it’s difficult to imagine that in just over a week (less by the time you read this), I’ll be saying a blessing over apples and honey.
As the classic Jewish joke goes, sometimes the holidays come early, sometimes they come late, yet they never seem to come on time. Even acknowledging the cliché, I think we can still agree that this year, they really come early.
That said, I’m more than willing to close the book on 5778, which was filled with pain, scandal, and loss.
Just look at how it started. On the very evening that we first wished our friends and family a shanah tovah, Puerto Rico was crushed by Hurricane Maria. The electricity was out for months, the damage to the island’s infrastructure was absolute, and only in recent days did we learn from an independent report that the official death toll was not 64, but 2,975 lives. Just 10 days after Maria made landfall, the day after Yom Kippur, a gunman opened fire at revelers attending a country music festival in Las Vegas, killing 58 people.
With a start like that, things can only go up, right? But then in February, Parkland, Fla., got on the map for the worst of reasons, as a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School took a semi-automatic rifle and shot indiscriminately at his classmates, his teachers, and anyone he could find, killing 17 students and staff members.
Israel celebrated its 70th birthday, which is more than a milestone — it’s nothing less than a miracle in plain sight — but it has not been an easy year for the Jewish state, either. The ties that bind Israel with diaspora Jewry are noticeably severed especially when it comes to conversions, the lack of egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel, and other religious matters.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is clinging to power as a corruption scandal encircles him like a hungry buzzard, and his wife, Sara, has been charged with fraud for allegedly misusing state funds. The IDF was unfairly accused of committing a massacre for shooting and killing 58 Palestinians trying to rush the border fence separating Gaza and Israel, the obvious justification for their actions having been lost on most of the international media. And as we wait for a long-promised truce with Hamas to materialize, Israel, which was again inundated with heavy rocket fire from Gaza, inches closer to war.
The story of this past year, however, is the #MeToo movement, which has opened our eyes to the abuses by those in power — mainly, but not exclusively, men — toward their underlings. It also reminded us in a very public forum that Jews are equally vulnerable to these immoral and unconscionable lapses. After all, so many of the prominent, respected individuals who were accused of sexual harassment in the workplace are Jewish. Of course — Hollywood rainmaker Harvey Weinstein, but also former Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, comedian Louis C.K., conductor James Levine, and media mogul Les Moonves. NJJN and its sister publication, The New York Jewish Week, also broke #MeToo stories about allegations against renowned sociologist Steven M. Cohen and NJY Camps executive director Leonard Robinson, who resigned amidst multiple claims of sexual harassment.
Finally, 5778 has been a year for more of the same from our commander in chief. I don’t want to get into it, I really don’t, so I’ll try to keep to issues most Americans seem to agree on: a president siding with a foreign dictator who meddled in an American election, over his own intelligence community; a president who prematurely raised the White House flag from half-staff after the death of his nemesis, a veteran, former POW, Republican presidential nominee, a senator so well respected that tears were shed by hard liners of both major political parties; and a sitting president who was just implicated in a crime, i.e., influencing an election by paying money to cover up his affair with a porn star. Politics aside, each of these instances is disturbing, and even his supporters ought to be troubled by such behavior.
(For the sake of not sweeping the wrongs of Democrats under the rug, New Jersey’s Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez should be equal parts ashamed and relieved that a hung jury saved him from corruption and bribery charges, and the state’s junior senator, Cory Booker, either willfully held a sign comparing Israel’s security fence to the proposed wall on the Mexican border, or was played for a fool in doing so.)
It hasn’t all been bad in the year that was, and even with regard to some of these events, silver linings abound. The Parkland shooting was horrible, and nothing can ever make up for a parent losing a child, but we can at least be proud that our young people rose up in the aftermath of the tragedy to form a new generation of activists. Women have become empowered by outing their abusers after so many years of silence and fear of reprisals for speaking up. And for all of us who criticize the U.S. president, his warm relationship with Netanyahu was certainly a factor in the relocation of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as well as pulling the plug on the Iran nuclear deal. But at what cost?
Yes, Rosh HaShanah comes early this year, but if you ask me, it can’t get here soon enough. It’s past time for us to ring in 5779.
Shanah tovah umetuka — wishing you a sweet new year, and may you and your loved ones be inscribed in the Book of Life.
Contact Gabe Kahn via email: email@example.com, or Twitter: @sgabekahn.