On Yom Kippur, we enumerated the seemingly endless sins we transgressed. I added not wearing a facemask in a public space.
This expiation hopefully should lead us into the New Year with a renewed commitment toward helping to restore a broken world. And there’s much to restore.
The bitter divisions in American society, not seen since 1968 , has family members ostracizing other family members if they’re on the wrong side of the political divide. It’s like the Hatfields versus the MCoys, with each side considering the other ignorant, misguided, and deplorable. In doing so, tens of millions of Americans are writing off the other side as hopelessly irredeemable.
And civil society as manifested by our political leaders is in trench warfare, each side positioning itself to prevent the other side from gaining any advantage. So Jerome Powell, head of the Federal Reserve, has to plead with Congress to provide greater fiscal relief to the tens of millions of unemployed whose federal benefits have run out. Instead, they’ll wait until after the election to do anything, so that neither side can gain any electoral benefit.
So the front pages of our two major national papers, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, highlighted this internecine warfare on 9/11 instead of focusing our attention to the unifying theme of “being in this together” in the aftermath of the worst attack on American soil.
Adding to our cacophonous times, even when we should celebrate peace between Israel, the UAE, and Bahrain, the naysayers complain about the abandonment of the Palestinians. Throughout multiple decades the Palestinian leaders have, in the words of Abba Eban, never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity in rejecting multiple peace offers. And the Arab League would not allow the Palestinian Authority to veto the quest for peace, security, and economic development among two of its members. It finally held the Palestinian leaders accountable for all the mistakes they made. Hopefully, this will prompt them to the negotiating table.
Back home, we are witnessing a battle between two narratives. One, fostered by the New York Times’ 1619 project, is one in which America’s fate is irredeemably chained to the legacy of slavery, almost like original sin. The other recognizes America’s imperfections but credits our society with learning from our mistakes and making evolutionary progress over the decades. “The arc of the moral universe is long,” Martin Luther King Jr reminds us, “but it bends toward justice.”
This debate, particularly as it affects the education received by the next generation, will be critical in determining our collective self-worth. As George Orwell wrote: “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”
In debating this issue, I was impressed with the lesson imparted by Rabbi Ari Lucas of Agudath Israel when he posed the question outlined in the Talmud about what we should do if a house were built with a stolen beam. Shammai posited that the house was so irredeemably treif that it should be destroyed. Hillel believed that the house should not be dismantled but that the rightful owner should be compensated monetarily. We follow Hillel in recognizing the wrongs we have promulgated, and we make every effort to correct them.
We have parallels in our history of the contentious demonization of the other.
Witness the Alien and Sedition Acts of John Adams, Palmer’s “Red Scare” of 1918, McCarthyism, and now the contemporary repression of cancel culture.
We will help overcome our current malaise if we follow Jonathan Sacks’s advice: “Those who are confident in their faith are not threatened but enlarged by the different faiths of others.”
May this New Year imbue within us tolerance of other viewpoints and perspectives, even as we steadfastly cling to our own.
Max Kleinman of Fairfield is the CEO emeritus of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest and president of the Fifth Commandment Foundation.