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Celebrate the Joy — Eradicate the Oy!

Friday, 28 June, 2019 - 12:27 pm

I recently was delighted to meet a former Hebrew School student and his mother.

The woman proudly shared that her son was active in combating anti-semitism in his school by reporting certain negative activity and publicly condemning the hostility some of the students were experiencing.

I congratulated the boy’s sense of justice and asked him my usual question about what his favorite mitzvah is.

“Fighting hate crimes. Making sure every person feels safe in my school and in my neighborhood.”

Unfortunately, we are aware that incidents related to anti-semitism are increasing and are a large problem in Jewish life today. Anti-semitism is undeniably on campuses and some elementary schools, too, and along with the subtle and not-so-subtle occurrences comes the obligation to stand up and condemn them and prevent them from happening again.

I could give you a whole slew of examples, many of which you are likely to be somewhat familiar with.

We (understandably) become preoccupied with Jew hatred-preoccupying ourselves with proclaiming what we are not-- that we tend to not focus enough on what we are.

Fighting anti-semitism is certainly a noble preoccupation; it is ultimately our obligation!

And I said as much to the boy at the market, congratulating him on his courage and commitment.

But at the same time, we have to embrace the joy of Judaism, embracing the beauty of our traditions.

Anyone in a thriving business knows that with all the PR in the world, and all the attempts to purge the Internet’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram pages from negative reviews, without a really good product, you have nothing.

So I suggest that we choose a time and place, together with friends or family, to bask in the priceless product: what we are. Let’s look at the values that Jews not only died for but lived for. Let’s bask in the knowledge that today we are a vibrant nation of survivors, where millions of Jews are learning about their Judaic culture and history more than at any other time in history. Let’s explore and experience the Joys of Judaism: the glow of the Shabbat candles, the wine of the Kiddush, the crusty Challah, the words of our timeless Torah to uplift and invigorate us all. Let’s practice the prayers that connect us to our Creator, all in a tech-free zone, where we’re not just hearing each other, but really listening and absorbing.  Let’s show the world not only our intolerance for racism, but that Jewish people love being Jewish.

Judaism is alive and well and living in this century.

I remember my father sharing this with us at the Shabbat table: in general, we human beings are drawn to the sensational. There’s a reason that bad news is always front and center in virtually every magazine, newspaper and TV channel, while the good news follows afterwards. Bad news gets our attention and sells. It fascinates and preoccupies the mind. But it does more than that, as it traps our thinking and we begin to view the world as a dark and fearful place. When we look at the world through the TV news lens, our world will look shattered. When we learn about a corner of our world that is suffering, we must do everything in our power to condemn those who are perpetrating misery, and work to alleviate the suffering.

Let’s not define our world by the darkness that exists within it. Let’s define our world by all of the blessings we enjoy, and the kindnesses we receive.  When many people do that constantly, we become aware of a brighter, hopeful side of humanity. And most importantly, let’s all work to that end by doing an act of goodness and kindness today. Keep your eye on the joy and take the time to perform a mitzvah or two.

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