}

The Anxiety of Accomplishment

Our synagogue’s annual high holiday spiel for Israel bonds was always the part where we went to the bathroom, popped Velamints, or left to converse in the aptly named Social Hall. Recently I asked my dad why he never bought the bonds and he said, ” Its just not a sound investment, who knows if the country will even be there by the time the bond matures.” Unfortunate thinking, no?

Brian Abrahams, Midwest Regional Director for AIPAC and alumnus of the Wexner Heritage program shares his awakening perspective as a Jewish father, Jewish professional, and Jewish soul…

I’m a Good Jew.

I married Jewish. I am a Jewish communal professional. I send my children to Jewish day school. I have spent most of my professional career in Jewish communal service. My largest philanthropic gift is to my local Federation where I also spend a lot of volunteer time. And more volunteer time goes to other Jewish organizations. We are affiliated with two synagogues, one Reform, one Conservative, and one post denominational. I think Israel’s safety and survival should be the paramount issue for all Jews right now. After all, I’ve been there more than a dozen times.

I’m a Damn Good Jew.

I’m raising my children to love their Jewish heritage, culture and religion.

And I’m frightened that I may be doing them a terrible disservice. I’m giving them the Hebrew fluency I’ve always wanted so badly, and their second language will have no value for doing business in Beijing, buying art in Milan, or touring in Sao Paolo. Their upbringing will focus them on seeking a mate from a tiny demographic group, when happy, enduring marriages are so hard to come by with wider choices. I’m teaching them to deeply love Israel, and there are nights without sleep when I stare into the darkness of my bedroom I wonder if there will be an Israel in ten years. Or five.

The anti-semitism that was so unfashionable for the last half century has come back, some of it in places we aren’t supposed to have to worry about. Yellow Stars of David are being painted on Jewish-owned stores near the Eiffel Tower and in London mezuzot are being ripped off doorposts. And let’s not kid ourselves; with all the outreach and dialogue and talk of a “religion of peace,” the practitioners of the fastest-growing religion in the world, who outnumber us almost 100 to one, pretty much hate us. We’re
two tenths of one percent of the world’s population and dropping. And we seem to exist only in the context of the dislike directed toward us.

During Purim my first grader turned to me, pronounced Purim with an Israeli accent, and pointed out the subtlety of Purim’s emphasis as happy holiday rife with danger and problems. At first I was struck with how well he had been taught in his day school. And then I thought, “What have I done to this child?”

Maybe there is a hidden message in the “happy” story of Purim. Maybe it is a message in a (liquor) bottle, from the rabbis a thousand years ago. A raucous party with a terrible warning at its black heart—“they” will never leave us alone. Our safety will always hang by a thread. And our survival will flow from chance and circumstance. And this business of Purim being the only holiday celebrated after the Messiah comes? Maybe that prediction by the rabbis was a wink and a nod from the grave: “The cavalry ain’t never comin’ folks, so always sleep with one eye open.”

Yes the Jewish people have been through tough times before. Times far worse than this. But if history repeats endlessly, it doesn’t repeat exactly. And for us the cycles seem to be getting worse and deeper over time. We thought the Crusades, Inquisition and pogroms were pretty bad. Then came the 20th century and we learned what bad really was.

Genocide has been clearly repudiated around the world, and yet there are people and nations contemplating, even actively planning, the elimination of the Jewish nation. One community after another falls and disappears. We are gone from Eastern Europe and the Arab world. South African Jewry wilted in recent decades. Now French Jews are buying apartments in Israel for an emergency escape. Which one is next? And very soon a majority of the Jews will live in one tiny ghetto. Where a single suitcase has the power . . . It is too terrible to even type the words.

I am so much luckier than my children are. I grew up in the 1960’s and 70’s during what we didn’t know to be the glory days. When public anti-Semitism was unacceptable and Israel invincible if not untouchable. When Jews mostly married Jews. When we were briefly in vogue. When the historical cycles seemed to have finally broken and swung in our favor.

Now I’m giving my children a much more thorough knowledge of their heritage than I ever had. But here in the dark, at my desk in 2004, I can’t see a bright future in which that heritage will be celebrated. I almost weep to think that I’ve set them up for heartbreak and a crushed spirit. I’ve given them an anchor for their whole being, and that anchor may disintegrate before their eyes. If Israel were destroyed, Judaism despised around the world, and their community fragmenting and fading, what then will they believe in? What chance will faith have against the real world they gaze out
on? What if they are the tail end of a tiny sect that had more stamina and staying power than all others, but did not possess eternal life any more than all those we outlived? I solemnly escort my children toward a 21st century Akedah, the rope ready to bind them to the uncertain rock of Jewish continuity. But no angel stays my hand; there will be no ram to substitute for my two sons.

Or maybe these are the paranoid midnight ravings of a born pessimist— one who sees a glass half filled with water and imagines all the ways a person could drown in so little liquid.

Every Friday night I lay hands on my children and bless them. Am I only passing them an anguishing burden? Born a Jew, I am still very much a Jew by choice. It has been suggested that in this age of freedom and plenty we are all Jews by choice. But I have already made profound choices for my kids. I have always hoped that they could live openly and proudly as Jews, their lives enriched by heritage and community. And I hold fast to those choices, despite all the reasons that argue otherwise. And so the dangers of Purim give way to Passover, the story of our greatest triumph.

The cornerstone of Jewish belief is that the human race can and should be continuously improved. Now I understand that this had to be so—our sanity and survival depend on that faint glimmer of upward human development. In a world of jihad and hatred, I feel foolish and naive to believe in a creed so contrary to what we know of our fellow citizens of the Earth. So must the ancient rabbis have felt—that is why they made virtues out of the pains. Separation meant that we were chosen, the demands of a higher moral creed were called a blessing. And then they waited, in vain, for the human race to rise and the pain to ebb.

But maybe, maybe just this once, things will truly get better. The forbidding sea before us will somehow split and reveal a hidden path to redemption. And that illogical hope is another fringe knotted at the corner of my soul, which gathers me and ties me to all the generations before.
*****

Did Mr. Abrahams’ poetic riff leave you stunned by his candor but feeling a little melancholic, Grasshopper? Don’t worry, be happy – click here for a little philanthropic therapy

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