From the Rabbi - May 2011 Print
Dear Friends:

It seems incredible to me that I graduated from college fifty years ago.  Walking across the open-air stage in Oberlin’s Tappan Square was only yesterday, or so it would appear through the hazes of memory.  Obviously, a lot has happened to me since 1961, and I am grateful for almost everything that has transpired in my life, even for the real downers – and there have been some.
     To help me remember what actually happened in that significant year in my life, I went back to see what milestones occurred.  Some notable people died that year: Dashiell Hammett and George S. Kaufman, Psychiatrist Carl Jung and Judge Learned Hand, Gary Cooper and Ty Cobb.  “West Side Story” and “Judgment at Nuremberg” appeared as films and we sang “Love Makes the World Go Round,” “Moon River” and “Where the Boys Are” as we danced at sock hops.  Those memorable events, however, pale by comparison to the things that are really worth remembering.

     In 1961, JFK was inaugurated as America’s 35th president; the Berlin Wall was erected, while the UN condemned apartheid.  Adolf Eichmann was found guilty in Jerusalem.  The Freedom Riders suffered brutal assaults in the South, but persisted.  If I’m going to look back, it’s not important to me to remember that a rough-and-tumble, rather coarse Georgian ball player died that year, but that there were a few events that spoke directly to the values that my generation and I considered important.  The five events that I listed at the beginning of this paragraph speak to themes that set the course of my life from that time until today: freedom, equality, accountability and, more than anything else, hope.
     I wish I could say that the world has been transformed in the last fifty years.  In some ways, it really has.  South Africa shucked off the apartheid system for a relatively democratic government; the Berlin Wall is gone; segregation and Jim Crow are long gone.  The last of the Nazis is soon to die off, but we cannot and dare not forget the brutality and savagery with which they murdered our people.    It is one thing to deal openly with modern Germany; it is quite another to forget the past – and that is something I hope we shall never do.  There are too many hate groups in contemporary American society for us not to remember how Brown Shirts became SS troopers and how SS troopers became mass killers.  Could it happen again?  Probably not, at least not in the same way, especially not if we remember the past with vigilance.
     Hope was in the air in 1961.  We looked forward to a far better future way back then.  Within a few years, that hope seemed muted and then it evaporated, sinking into the swamps of Viet Nam, Cambodia and Laos.  The hope surfaced again in 2008, but it’s hard to find an optimist today.
     I remain unabashedly hopeful and optimistic.  I do not apologize for this.  In my book, pessimists never get anywhere.  They look forward to the worst and plan for defeat.  Their fight song ought to include a verse that says: It’s impossible and we cannot do it, so we won’t.  Only optimists have a chance at some positive outcome.  So, I would rather be disappointed a hundred times over than to give way to defeatism and negative thinking.
     My religion teaches me that the world can be improved, and that I should want to be part of that progress and improvement.  If it doesn’t happen today, well there’s always tomorrow.  So, if there is one value that has stuck with me through good and bad times since 1961 it is the unwavering conviction that I came into adult life with hope and I’ll be blessed if I shall go out any other way.
            Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi