Happy Birthday, World?
Approaching the New Year 5778 with a sense of hope, a dose of trepidation and a desire to re-set and reinvigorate our relationships with God and our fellow beings, we are also reminded that, according to Jewish tradition, Rosh Hashanah (the first day of Tishri) is the birthday of the world.
Concurrently, recent events in Charlottesville, Va., remind us that even as we seek a safe space during these Days of Awe — physically and mentally — to cleanse our souls and prepare for Divine judgment, there are those whose hatred of Jews knows no bounds.
The birthday of the world and Charlottesville also have me thinking about Albert Einstein, the Jewish “genius among geniuses” whose fertile mind produced E=mc2 and the General Theory of Relativity that are the intellectual underpinnings associated with the history and fate of the universe and the creation of the atomic bomb. In 1999, TIME Magazine selected Einstein as its most influential person of the (20th) century.
As we looked skyward in awe on Aug. 21, Americans witnessed the first total solar eclipse since 1979, and the first in 100 years to stretch across the U.S. All that was needed was a pair of low-technology solar-filtered eclipse glasses to understand that while we are immersed with the mundane aspects of our daily lives, typically arguing about the superiority of one country, people, political party, billionaire or religion over the other, we are beholden to forces we can barely understand and that don’t distinguish among us.
This was not fake news. There were no alternative facts. The evidence was skyward for millions to witness with their own eyes. Happy birthday, world.
Days later, we looked skyward in despair as Hurricane Harvey introduced us to a deluge unprecedented in scale — a one-in-a-thousand-year storm that dumped staggering amounts of rain over vast areas of Texas and Louisiana. Noah would have been impressed. The University of Wisconsin’s Space, Science and Engineering Center noted that 40 inches of rain fell on an area of 3,643 square miles. The floodwaters didn’t discriminate based on socioeconomic class or political party affiliation. Yet, we also were informed that this was the third once-in-five-hundred-year-flood to have hit in the past three years. And now Florida is dealing with the effects of Hurricane Irma.
And while some have claimed the real cause of the Houston flooding was poor planning and inadequate safeguards by the Army Corps of Engineers, non-partisan teams of scholars, researchers and engineers have concluded that it is extremely likely human influence has been the dominant cause of the documented increase in our planet’s rising temperatures since the mid-20th century and the cause of extreme weather events.
This was not fake news. There were no alternative facts. The evidence was skyward — and on the ground — for millions to witness with their own eyes. Happy birthday, world.
Framing these power-of-nature events is a third that has us looking skyward with dread as North Korea test-fired ballistic missiles — including one that whizzed over Japan — capable of delivering utterly destructive, weaponized versions of the atomic building blocks upon which our natural world stands. As sabers are rattled and rhetoric is ramped up, counter steps are being taken to modernize and expand America’s nuclear capabilities, and potentially fast-track nuclear weapons programs for Japan, Taiwan and South Korea as well. Collectively, humanity continues to add to its ability to utterly destroy our planet.
This is not fake news. There are no alternative facts. Happy birthday, world.
“Jews will not replace us.”
With that chant on their lips, cheap tiki torches in their hands and the morally perplexed leader of the free world stoking their confidence, parading neo-Nazis in Charlottesville jolted even the most secure-feeling American Jews into recognizing that anti-Semitism is a cancer that seemingly defies cure and the post-Holocaust vow of “Never Again!” is starting to feel like “Maybe Again?”
According to an article last month in The Atlantic titled “Charlottesville Marchers Were Obsessed With Jews,” white supremicists “see Jews hovering malevolently in the background, pulling strings, controlling events, acting as an all-powerful force backing and enabling the other targets of their hate.”
This mindless hatred of Jews juxtaposed against the brilliance of Einstein reminded me of my late friend and mentor Detroiter Walter Field.
A successful businessman, ardent Zionist, poet and an initial backer of Phillip Slomovitz when he launched the Jewish News in 1942, Walter devoted much of his adult life to educating those around him about the extraordinary — and highly disproportionate — contributions Jews have made to the advancement of Western civilization.
Right up to his death in 1999 at age 98, Walter articulated — and radiated — pride in his Jewishness and the accomplishments of our people — for the benefit of all. Though numbering perhaps 15 million in a world of 7.5 billion inhabitants, Walter would underscore that Jews — including Einstein — comprised more than 20 percent of all Nobel Prize winners, with even higher representation among those receiving the honor in physics, physiology and medicine.
One of Walter’s unfulfilled dreams was for all Detroit-area bar and bat mitzvah children to receive — as part of their rite of passage into adulthood and the Jewish community — a booklet he compiled about contributions Jews have made for the betterment of humanity.
In his 1963 book A People’s Epic, Walter’s love and embrace of our Jewish roots was communicated powerfully in a poem titled “Israel’s Chosen Destiny.” He wrote:
Jews were destined a trail to blaze
Ten Commandments on stone to phrase.
Lead man out of idol maze.
The greatest truth to human kind,
One God, they were first to find.
Laws of equal justice they designed.
A rest-day with a Sabbath air,
They were the first to declare.
A grand gift for the world to share.
“Love thy neighbor,” a Torah decree.
Slaves, Judeans were first to free.
Jews fought and bled for liberty.
As healers to the human race
Jews hold an honorable place;
They are in front, setting the pace.
In every field of human thought;
They pioneered, and knowledge sought.
To savages, morals they taught.
The Jews will always work and strive
Progress and freedom to keep alive,
That justice and truth forever survive.
As we gather with family and friends this Rosh Hashanah, please consider kindling an additional holiday candle to celebrate the birth of the world and the important contributions our Jewish community has made — and continues to make — for the betterment of all … including neo-Nazis.
Publisher & Executive Editor