Making comparisons

Making comparisons

This is a strange, unsettled time.

For the first time in our history, we’ve had a president indicted on federal charges; just a few weeks ago, he was indicted, again as a first on state charges. He also was found liable of sexual abuse in a civil case; again, this is new.

There are threats of violence that we should not allow to terrify us — that is, after all, how threats, by definition, slip over into terrorism — but we should not forget the violence on January 6, either. As we keep being told, when people tell us who they are and what they will do, we should believe them.

So it was oddly comforting to think about two stories in the paper this week.

Our time is unsettled, but not nearly as much as Maimonides’. He was born in Spain in 1135; the country went from being safe for Jews to being dangerous, and he and his family left first for Fez, and then, after Morocco, too, became unsafe, he moved through the Middle East before settling in Cairo.

Life was hard for everyone — Maimonides was a doctor, yes, but the medicine he practiced was the medicine of his day. Life expectancy was nothing to write home about — if you could write, that is, and even if you could, there were no corner mailboxes and friendly mail carriers.

And if it was hard to be a man, it was much, much harder to be a woman. You’d be likely to die in childbirth; if you survived, your community — looking at you, Moses Maimonides — was unlikely to honor your intellect or your inherent decency.

But there was the Rambam, as the exhibit at the YU Museum shows us, teaching, writing, talking, living on past his 66 years in people’s memories through his writing, his creativity, his grasp of philosophy, and his grip on people’s imaginations.

He lived in far far harder times than we do.

Then there’s David Ben-Gurion. He lived in what recognizably was our time — before the internet, yes, which would make our world just about unrecognizable to a time traveler from the middle of the last century (although they’d recognize the midcentury modern teak furniture that we see all over) — but he lived from 1886 to 1973, his life spanning three quarters of the 20th century.

Ben-Gurion lived through the Holocaust. He didn’t have to imagine the unimaginable evil. He saw it. And then he was the prime mover in establishing a state for the Jews who survived the evil. That’s extraordinary. He was a man of great charisma and extraordinary accomplishments.

We write about both of them in this week’s paper.

So when I look at the lunacy and threats of violence, impending authoritarianism, and growing antisemitism that confront us now, I realize that, as ugly as they seem, they’re nothing to what other people — other Jews — have endured.

May we have the wisdom and fortitude to remember that, and to help right the course of our own country.


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