Mark Jacobs gives a shortlist of some things that happened this past year that can uplift our Jewish souls.
A friend recently sent me a picture of a cartoon book, titled How to Deal with the Upcoming Recession, Inflation, Ice Age, Population Explosion and the Complete End of the World in the Year 2020.
I think we can all agree that 2020 will not go down as a banner year. Between economic collapse, an exhausting political race, racial injustice and the world’s worst global pandemic in 100 years, it’s been a year that America and the world would like to forget.
The Jewish world will soon say goodbye to the corresponding year in the Hebrew calendar, 5780. The gloom of the insidious coronavirus will hang over everything. Most of us will be observing the High Holidays from home, and every aspect of our community life — work, school, worshipping, socializing — has been upended, just like everyone else. In Israel, the virus has ravaged that small country, with more than 80,000 cases and 600 deaths.
But let’s not lose sight of a few things as we look ahead to 5781. Jews have seen our share of dark years before, and yet we always manage to find reasons for hope and inspiration. For a people who have miraculously survived for over five millennia — which included persecution, exile, extermination and terrorism — we have learned to not get too up or too down over a particular year. We have wisely learned to play the long game.
For all the misery of the past year, the fact is that many positive things happened in the Jewish world in 5780, and some of them were truly incredible. We should not overlook them. Golda Meir once said, “Pessimism is a luxury that a Jew can never allow themselves.”
We can choose to take Golda’s advice, reject the urge to wallow in gloom and doom, and instead feel optimistic about all the good things of 5780, for there is much to be proud of. Our Kiddush cup is indeed half-full.
Here’s a short list of some things that happened this past year that can uplift our Jewish souls:
• The United Arab Emirates and Israel entered into an historic peace deal calling for “full normalization of relations.” The UAE is now the third Arab country to have formal relations with Israel, after Egypt and Jordan.
• Two Russian cosmonauts, during a spacewalk on Holocaust Remembrance Day, displayed an Israeli flag along a sign they constructed reading “We Remember.”
• At the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau in January, a senior delegation from the Muslim World League and the American Jewish Committee came together and locked arms in solidarity.
• Israeli athletes competed in the judo international championship in the UAE. The Israeli team won, and the Israeli flag was hoisted as “Hatikvah” was played, a first in the UAE. Israel also competed in the Tour de France for the first time.
• Trade between Israel and the Gulf States hit $1 billion.
• Israel’s Minister of Culture was invited to and visited Dubai for the first time.
• The Arab Council for Regional Integration was formed, a “pan-Arab initiative devoted to bringing security and prosperity to the Middle East,” and particularly focused on overcoming hatred against Israel and Jews and “growing coexistence and cooperation.”
• The FDA approved an Israeli company’s early warning testing procedure for treating COVID-19 patients. Many Israeli start-up companies continued to thrive, particularly in the area of tracking, tracing, diagnosing and monitoring COVID-19 patients.
• The U.S. House Appropriations Committee approved $3.3 billion in security assistance to Israel.
• Thirty-one U.S states passed legislation condemning antisemitism and formally opposing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. The legislation directs state entities not to contract with any business that supports BDS.
• The Michigan Legislature created its very first Black and Jewish Unity Caucus, which will be working with the Coalition for Black and Jewish Unity, of which the JCRC/AJC is a partner.
• In New York, the Guardian Angels announced that it would begin patrolling Crown Heights in order to protect Jewish neighborhoods. Curtis Sliwa, the founder, announced the decision and stated, “We have a moral obligation to make up for historical antisemitism.”
• The U.S. and Israeli Air Force held its first ever F-35 training in Israel.
• Congress introduced the U.S.-Israel Military Capability Act to deepen security cooperation with Israel.
• The Jewish community came out strongly in support of racial equality following the George Floyd murder, which included statements from a host of Jewish organizations, along with numerous articles, webinars and demonstrations.
• Israel celebrated 72 years of independence.
• Locally, the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit had a record annual fundraising campaign, more than $34 million and more than 10,000 donors, and expanded its extraordinary work providing the community with emergency financial assistance, food and housing, mental health support, Jewish education and much more.
• Last but not least, we’re still here! Approximately 2,600 years after the destruction of the First Temple, when our small band of ancestors were either killed, captured or sent scattering to the winds, Jews are surviving and thriving as we enter 5781.
We lost 6 million people a mere 75 years ago, and today our entire world population is down to about 0.2% of the whole — roughly the size of Buenos Aires — and yet we are alive and well, with our own strong country and a steel will to meet the future with immense Jewish pride and determination. This feat alone, in and of itself, is nothing short of a miracle.
None of these items erase the very real danger to Israel today, nor the troubling spike in antisemitism. Israel has not known a true day of peace since 1948, and antisemitism has been around since time immemorial. Let’s not sugarcoat this.
But in a world filled with hate and violence against Jews, we must know — and teach our children — that there are also wonderful and heartwarming examples of success and solidarity, and the Jewish people remain solid.
We need not be dejected as we look to the new year. We can look to all the wonderful things around us, reject pessimism and choose to go into 5781 with hope, that essential Jewish value and the namesake of the Israeli national anthem, “Hatikvah.”
Golda Meir would be very proud of us if we did.
L’ Shana Tovah!
Mark Jacobs is the AIPAC Michigan chair for African American Outreach, a co-director of the Coalition for Black and Jewish Unity, a board member of the Jewish Community Relations Council/AJC and the director of Jewish Family Service’s Legal Referral Committee.