My father’s yahrzeit has begun and, as expected, my thoughts turn to him. For a number of years I’ve written my children, sister and nieces reminiscences on the yarhzeits and birthdays of both my parents and want to share a bit of this year’s thoughts.
Although I was living in Los Angeles at the time, I would travel to Denver at least twice a month in his last years. His health and spirits were in decline and there was so much still to say to each other. I was shocked one night when he confided in me that he was tired of being “the father”. The work, the hopes, the dreams, the disappointments had overwhelmed him.
Next morning, however, he got in his car and drove to his office where he spent the day, putting all his energy into his lifelong project of providing for the people he loved. Even when we pleaded with him to stay home and rest, more often than not, even when he didn’t have the energy to walk to the end of the block, he would drive to the building where he worked, climb a flight of stairs and sit behind his desk analyzing and making decisions he hoped would help his wife, son and daughter and two granddaughters. And while he never met his four younger grandchildren, his work, care and love has continued to benefit them as well.
Flash forward thirty-three years and we all live in a time that it is so easy and understandable in which to lose all hope. After a brief respite, at least in Europe and the US, post-Holocaust and the shame and guilt many people felt over unleashing that horror, once again it has become increasingly dangerous to be Jewish. In a world of political correctness, the only group “educated and cultured” people have given themselves permission, even make fashionable, to hate is the Jewish People, slightly camouflaged, of course, this time around as “the Zionists” (and as Martin Luther King, Jr. bravely declared, “Anti-Zionism is Anti-Semitism”). The threat of violence against Israel and Israelis has become permanent, and the current kidnapping of three young yeshiva boys, as well as the unending rocket bombardment from Gaza are only today’s manifestation of that violence. Many western governments, including that of the United States (although not, thank God, the people of the United States), the European Union, the United Nations and other bodies that pretend to uphold the values of freedom and human rights and dignity have abandoned Israel; violent, often murderous attacks against Jews have become almost commonplace in Europe and the US. So many young Jews, especially those trying to navigate the new hotbeds of anti-semitism, disguising itself in institutions which claim to be of “higher learning”, as the BDS movement, Israel Apartheid Week and worse, no longer know what or who to believe.
There are many nights, many days, too, when I’m tired of “being the father”, of being “the rabbi”. I know the discouragement my own father felt to the depths of my bones.
But each morning, I, and all of us, must rise and face the responsibilities not only with a sense of obligation, but also with joy and with the hope that our efforts will benefit those whom we love: our family, our people and, eventually, as we bring more and more light into the world, mankind at large. As Caroline Glick writes, “We have a lot of things to feel privileged to fight for”. Following the lead of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, we can increase–even if each of us does just a little it adds up–our study of Torah, our prayer, our ritual observance and our kindness and support to each other. And, as pointed out by Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh, we must actualize our love for Torah, for the Jewish People and for the Land of Israel, asserting not only our age-old right, but our equally long-standing obligation to dwell in (may I soon be able to fulfill this myself) and to have sovereignty and full responsibility for Eretz Yisrael. Yes, the responsibility is enormous, but as Hillel taught (Avot 2:5), “In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man.”
As Rebbe Nachman taught, “The entire world is a very narrow bridge. But the root of the matter is to never let fear overcome us.”