The end of this holiday season is the time for us to begin again.
On the heels of the High Holidays and the harvest celebration of Sukkot, we reflect on ourselves; we each try to be the best person that we can be and acknowledge that we reap what we sow. Let us strive to live by the primary Jewish directive of tikkun olam; to heal ourselves and then heal the world.
If we have done wrong to ourselves by giving in to fear or not believing we have an intrinsic value or by remaining in toxic relationships or by wasting our God-given talents, we can forgive ourselves and change our actions. If we have done wrong to someone else with harsh words or deeds, lies or deceit, inattention or belittling, abdicating responsibility or lack of empathy, we can make it right with an unconditional apology followed by a change in action.
Let us not forget what we have done wrong or what has been done wrong to us, because then it will continue. We can choose to forgive, so that we don’t hold onto the pain, but never forget.
When we face our own demons and make things right then we have the best chance to heal the Jewish community as we embrace all Jews regardless of complexion, background, sexual orientation, denomination, or net worth. Diversity is our greatest strength as Americans and as Jews. It fosters creativity, innovation, openness, and compassion. It is who we are and have always been. It is our guiding light to shine and to celebrate.
Why create artificial divisions when there are so many Jews who don’t even see the value of being a Jew? Anyone who wants to be part of the tribe should be embraced with warmth and appreciation as they choose to be in a tiny minority that faces hostility in many places throughout America and around the world.
From a position of inclusion, we can gather strength and heal the rift between many American Jews and the Israel government over divisive issues like where we pray, who is a Jew, to whom we marry and how we return to the earth. Let us simply say that if you choose to be a Jew, we are happy to have you.
Let’s remember that Jews are the chosen people not because God chose us or we are better than anyone else. It is because we chose to live by Jewish values. Jews reject the notion that those who have the gold make the rules, or that anyone is better than anyone else because of how they were born. We believe in the golden rule — treat someone the way you want to be treated. This applies to family members, friends, co-workers, employees, and strangers alike.
The golden rule also creates an obligation to fight for equality. Let us stand with Jewish women of Ethiopian descent who are victims of employment discrimination and have been subjected to the horrors of forced sterilization by a male-dominated Israeli government. Let us speak up for American women who earn less than men for the same work and are the victims of sexual assault by men in positions of power.
Let our Jewish values permeate inside us so that we can examine what divisions we sow within our own family and community to perpetuate power and position. Then we can change our ways.
United, we can connect with others who also have been the victims of skyrocketing hate crimes, fueled by President Trump’s divisive polices, in the Latino, black, Asian, Muslim, and LGBT communities. We can come together with our diverse expressions in the commonality of our experience, our struggle for freedom and equality, our love of family, and belief in a better life for our children. For all of our sakes, we can take decisive action against the perpetrators of hate and exclusion. Together, we will triumph. The arc of history is on our side.
Let us be unequivocal that regardless of Trump’s policies that imprison more than twelve thousand children in internment camps, ban people based on religion, attack the free press as the enemy of the people, or coddle a Russian dictator who is actively undermining our democracy, this is not who we are.
With Jewish principles and self-preservation as our guide, we can act against a president who says there are many fine people on both sides of a fascist rally and blames both sides for the violence. Let us say what is self-evident. When a white supremacist murders a peaceful protestor and injures more than a dozen others, both sides are not to blame. There is no moral equivalency when you are dealing with Nazis.
As Trump continues to sow the seeds of division for his political gain, his Jewish supporters explain that he’s just playing to his base. Why support a man who has asked for and received the support of haters at home and an enemy abroad?
Our mantra is never to forget, but too many of us have. Some Jews actually believe anti- fascists are dangerous troublemakers. Let’s remember these anti-fascists began fighting against the Nazis in World War II, and if there had been more of them around in the 1930s Jewish lives inevitably would have been saved.
Too many of us have forgotten that we were banned refugees with no one to take us in. That our children were separated from our parents and put into cages. That we were breaking the law when the courageous few resisted in the ghettos, forests, and death camps. That we were imprisoned illegal refugees inside internment camps.
When Prime Minister Netanyahu says that the final solution was the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem’s idea, the German prime minister was compelled to come out and say no, it was us, we didn’t forget.
When Netanyahu’s son disseminates propaganda that Black Lives Matter, a civil rights movement with a mission to protect African Americans from a criminal justice system that imprisons blacks much more often than whites for the same crimes and protests the killing of unarmed black men by the police, is worse than Nazis, he forgets.
Forgetting the truth will be our undoing within our own families and as people.
Let us not be so desperate to hold onto power within our families that we feign forgetfulness. Let us not be so desperate to hold onto white privilege that we seek a life of delusion through intentional amnesia.
Now is the time to pierce the darkness in our own lives and in society, not to sweep it under the rug where it will fester and make matters much worse.
Never forget that the infinite stars in the sky shine bright, even if we can’t see them. So too does God’s light shine in all of us, even if we don’t see it. Through our positive actions, we can shine that light on ourselves, our families, our people and our world.
And then we will heal.
Let us begin again and make this a good year, with truth and light, as we reap the gift of life we sow with love and kindness.
Michael Perlman, a documentary filmmaker, nonprofit founder, attorney, and musician, lives in West New York.