I’ve shared the following story before. But a new chapter has been written. In 2006 I was standing on the bridge at the Irmas campus that connects my office to the gym. Rabbi Dennis Eisner stood next to me as we watched his young son laughing and playing with his friends on the field. One would think his face would be full of light, enjoying such a moment, but no. His expression is solemn.
“Are you OK?” I asked.
“Yeah, I’m just so sad to think that one day these beautiful children so full of joy will find out people will hate them just because they are Jewish,” he replied.
I didn’t have children then but I do now. That memory haunts me because that day is here. In this time of social media and the hotwiring of emotion, it is so very hard to shield our children from the hate and fear that surrounds us. Do we send our kids to school? Do we remove our mezuzot? Do we tuck in our Stars of David?
At the very least, we have all asked ourselves these questions. Regardless of our answers, the questions are all around us. And…I have hope. Why? Because affixed on that very bridge where I stood with Rabbi Eisner are the words attributed to the chassidic rabbi Reb Nachman of Bratslav: Kol haolam kulo gesher tzar me’od! The whole world is a very narrow bridge, and the most important thing is not to be afraid!
Yes, this last month has been painful and scary and confusing…full of evil, full of darkness… But also filled with glimmers of light and confidence and, again, hope.
Two Wednesdays ago, sitting at my desk answering emails in the afternoon, I heard some of our elementary school students singing Hatikvah. It was odd only because it was a Wednesday and no prayer service was happening at that specific time. So I set out to investigate just where these beautiful voices were coming from. I found our Brawerman football team singing Hatikvah, on their own, as their “pump up” song before their game.
Early that same Wednesday morning, just as I was about to share my weekly Torah story with a class of four and five-year-olds in the Early Childhood Center, a student raised her hand to share something she said was very important. “Rabbi Eshel! My daddy says there are people who came into Israel to try and take the Torah away from us. And he says we can’t let that happen. That’s why YOU are here to teach us the Torah and that‘s why WE are here to learn the Torah, so start the story already!”
It is our children who give me hope. And just as important, it is all of you who give me hope. You see, the pride, joy, and love that our children have for their Jewish selves is not born out of thin air. Rather, it is born and nurtured through the thoughtful, meaningful, and intentional ways we educate our children. As our parashah teaches this week in reference to God’s relationship with Abraham and the Jewish people, “For I have singled him out, that he may instruct his children and his posterity to keep the way of יהוה by doing what is just and right, in order that יהוה may bring about for Abraham what has been promised him” (Genesis 18:19). It is the promise that we the Jewish people will be as numerous as the stars in the heavens above and the grains of sand on this God-given earth. Am Yisrael Chai v’Kayam! The people of Israel will live and thrive for all time… Amen.