The World’s Birthday and My Wish for Charlotte

24 Sep


By Rabbi Judith Schindler

Today the Jewish world is celebrating Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Rather than celebrating with champagne in hand, Jews across the globe will celebrate with prayer books. It is a time to reflect on the direction we need to take personally and communally and a time for renewal. The abundant hours we will spend in synagogue are hardly enough to reflect on the complexity of today’s world. Global fear, and for good reason, plagues so many.

In the face of Ebola threatening the lives of thousands in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, there is fear. Health care workers who are bringing education, compassion and healing to these countries are facing suspicion and even murder in Guinea.

In the face of ISIS, there is fear. We fear for moderate Muslims, Christians, Jews, Americans, westerners, and non-believers who are in proximity to these violent extremists and whose lives could be in jeopardy. ISIS threatens all of us.

In the face of Ferguson, Missouri, there is fear. We are concerned that racial profiling is threatening the safety and security of African Americans.

In the face of rising global anti-Semitism there is fear. At a recent UN Conference on Anti-Semitism it was reported that in July, 2014, European incidents increased by 436%, American incidents rose by 130%, and anti-Semitic acts in South America rose by 1,200%. The violence, vandalism and hate-filled rhetoric we have witnessed are reminiscent of the Germany of the 30’s, the horrific outcome of which we are all well aware.

In the face of threats to Israel, there is fear. This past summer, Israel found and destroyed dozens of terror tunnels filled with explosives that were built by Hamas and designed to kill thousands of Israelis on these High Holy Days. Israel is in a highly volatile neighborhood. On this New Year’s Day we pray for peace for Israelis and for Palestinians.

Reb Nachman, a Chasidic rabbi who lived two hundred years ago, wrote, “The whole world is a very narrow bridge and the most important thing is not to be afraid.”

Fear can paralyze us and move us to be insular or it can propel us to reach out to others for support. Focusing internally and worrying only about our own will increase our fears, yet working together to build strong bridges of connection will enable us to overcome the Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, xenophobia and racism that threaten us.

How do we build solid bridges that will help us to pass over hard times? We build bridges when we speak out against narrow-mindedness that leads to fanaticism. We mend mistrust when we foster relationships with one another across lines of religious, racial and socioeconomic difference and increase understanding. We heal our world when we right any racist assumptions we see or hear and when we embrace the stranger and foreigner in our midst.

There is legitimate reason for fear in our world. Headlines lead us to believe that extremism and evil are rampant. Yet we have the power here in Charlotte to build the strongest bridges of interfaith and interracial connection so that the headlines we write will give our community the strongest reasons for faith.

On the Jewish New Year, a metaphoric Book of Life is written and ten days from now on Yom Kippur that Book of Life will be sealed. Our fate for the coming year is decreed. Yet Judaism teaches that we have the power, based on our actions, to change what is written. What fate will we create for Charlotte in this NewYear?

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