Kiddush cup more than half full

Op-ed: After years of exile and oppression, we are living in one of greatest eras in Jewish history

I often hear my grandfather, a Holocaust survivor from Poland, say that we are currently living in the greatest time the Jews have ever experienced in our long history. To many, this assertion may seem like quite a stretch. Israel is facing a nuclear threat from Iran, the constant threat of terrorism, and a religious-secular divide; assimilation and intermarriage in North American Jewish communities is increasing at an alarming rate; and anti-Israel sentiment on university campuses and on the international scene is rampant (amongst many other issues). Does this really sound like the greatest era in Jewish history?


We, as worried Jews, often forget to remember that the Kiddush cup is more than half full. Let’s put things into perspective. Seventy years ago, we were a helpless and scattered people with no central base. We were thrown into gas chambers by the millions; one out of every three of us was murdered. We had nowhere to go with most countries keeping their gates locked shut – even countries like Canada, whose unidentified immigration agent, when asked how many Jews would be allowed into the country after the war, infamously responded “none is too many.”


We have come a long way in 70 years. For the first time in over 2,000 years, we once again have an independent Jewish state in the land of Israel. No longer are attacks on Jews left unanswered. Not only do the Jewish people have an army to defend themselves, but we have one of the most powerful militaries in the world. Never again will there not be a place for Jews to go in times of need.


About half of world Jewry currently lives in the Jewish state, speaking Hebrew, celebrating Jewish holidays (whether religious or not), and defending the Jewish homeland. Programs like MASA and Birthright Israel work to bring thousands of non-Israeli Jews to Israel every year for identity-shaping, meaningful Jewish experiences. Never in Jewish history have so many non-Jews wanted to become Jews, and not until now has Judaism become so accessible with the Internet, Jewish apps, and other innovative modern technology.


The world of Torah study has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years with countless yeshivot in both Israel and all over the world. Some yeshivot, like the Mir in Jerusalem and the Lakewood Yeshiva in New Jersey, harbor several thousand students each. Another underappreciated addition to the modern Jewish world is the presence of Chabad. Wherever there are Jews, there is a Chabad house. With over 3600 Chabad houses in over 1000 cities and 70 different countries, there is always a place where any Jew can go and have all of their Jewish needs met.


We have a lot to be proud of

Although anti-Semitism no doubt exists among segments of society, the vast majority of Jews in the Diaspora live in countries that protect and defend the rights of their Jewish citizens and maintain positive relations with the Jewish state. One couldn’t say that a Jew in Canada, the US, or Australia (for example) doesn’t enjoy total freedom to be fully and proudly Jewish while at the same time enjoying immense opportunity and equality in society (and an open door to achieve in whatever professional field they aspire to – academia, government, medicine, etc).


We have a lot to be proud of. In the past few years, when major natural disasters have befallen countries like Haiti and the Philippines, Israel has often been one of the first countries on the ground offering much needed help with Israeli-developed medical technology. For a country that is all too often the victim of one-sided resolutions and votes against it in the UN, it’s important to remember that Israel’s main allies are the strongest and most powerful countries on earth. Despite a global delegitimization campaign and media bias against it, Israel and the IDF maintain their moral code of ethics through everything and, along with the global Jewish population, hope and pray for peace every day.


There is no doubt that the Jewish people have a lot to work on. There are a lot of things to improve, a lot of things to fix, and a lot of problems to solve. But by no means is this a reason to prevent us from opening our eyes and seeing what we do have. My grandfather is right. After thousands of years of exile, homelessness, oppression, pogroms, discrimination, and the Holocaust, there is no doubt that we are living in one of the greatest eras in Jewish history.


These thoughts take me back to a memorable conversation on a warm Sukkot night in 2008. I was sitting in a sukkah at a friend’s house in Kiryat Shmona, speaking to his brother who is a Moroccan Breslov Chasid. After a lengthy discussion about all the problems and issues facing Israel, I turned to him and said “yihiyeh tov,” the Hebrew phrase for “it’ll be okay.” He looked back at me with a smile on his face and said “kvar tov” – “it already is.”



פרסום ראשון: 12.19.13, 10:50
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