From the Rabbi - April 2014 Print
Dear Friends:

You may recall that Charles Dickens began A Tale of Two Cities with these immortal words: “It was the best of times.  It was the worst of times.”  He was, of course, referring to the days immediately preceding the French Revolution, but his words could just as aptly relate to the months of Adar and Nisan in the Jewish calendar.

We begin this period in the Jewish year with Torah readings that center on our slavery in Egypt.  It was the worst of times.  But then come the best of times, as we gather to celebrate our liberation and our journey to Sinai.  We become “a kingdom of priests and a holy people” as we imbibe the intoxicating spirit of freedom.  And yet, within only a few days, our lives turn dark again, as we read of the idolatry of the Golden Calf in the Torah and relive the calamity of the modern-day Shoah and the destruction of over one-third of our people.  Could there be any worse times?  Yet, less than ten days after we have gathered to remember the victims of the Shoah and to think about human cruelty we also rejoice on Yom Ha-Atzmaut, the anniversary of the founding of the modern state of Israel.  Back to the best of times.

Perhaps it is our Jewish fate to fluctuate between these two poles, between exaltation and despair.  Our history imposes on us this bi-polar perspective.  For a long time, it was a common attitude to think of the extended Jewish Middle Ages (really from the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE until the emancipation of European Jewry after the French Revolution and even until the founding of the State of Israel) as a period of unrelieved sadness and oppression.  The great Jewish historian, Salo Baron, decried the “lachrymose conception of Jewish history,” thinking of the past as an unmitigated tragic narrative.  Modern scholarship has demonstrated that there has actually been an alternation between periods of success and security and periods of pogrom and persecution.

We Jews count ourselves as fortunate to live in this blessed land of the United States.  Any fair and objective assessment of our situation must lead to the conclusion that Jews have never before lived in similar conditions of freedom, acceptance and security.  For all the complaints we have about our society and our nation, America has been good for us.  Here, it is the best of times.

Are the worst of times in the future?  In the past, when bad things have happened to Jews, the impetus has almost always come from the outside society; others made our lives miserable.  Now, however, it seems that the future is in our own hands.  If we choose, we can sustain this “golden age.”  But if we are uninvolved, apathetic, ignorant and contemptuous of our heritage, we can bring down upon ourselves the worst of times.   For the first time in Jewish history, the choice is really up to us.

    Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi