Hanging by a Thread
About a month ago, I heard a rumor that one of the major national health services is opening up its own pharmacy in my neighborhood. My first reaction was to wonder what the impact would be on the local pharmacy that has served the neighborhood for three decades, especially as it has always benefitted from certain special privileges from that particular health service.
The next day, I ran into one of the local pharmacists in the grocery store checkout line, and I asked her about the rumors. She confirmed them, and told me she had already been given notice by the owner of the pharmacy.
The particular pharmacist is exemplary in every respect: knowledgeable about both conventional and alternative remedies, pleasant and patient, and fluent in Hebrew, English, and French. Her termination had absolutely nothing to do with any shortcoming on her part. Rather her fate was determined by a decision made by the national health service to create a network of neighborhood pharmacies. That decision had nothing to do with the quality of the existing pharmacies servicing those neighborhoods.
The circumstances of this particular pharmacist do not, I suppose, rise to the level of high tragedy. In some form or another, the same story takes place tens of thousands times every day somewhere around the globe: a new environmental regulation forces a coal mine to shut down, resulting in the loss of jobs of all coalminers in the region; manufacturing plants move abroad to take advantage of cheaper foreign labor or robots are developed to do jobs formerly done by human beings. Anger at such impersonal forces played a major role in Donald Trump's surprise victory.
The loss of jobs caused by factors beyond the control of laid off workers is far from the only way in which the entire rug of our secure existence may be suddenly ripped out from under us. We can eat all the healthiest foods in the recommended quantities, exercise regularly, and still receive grim news one day that a certain medical test looks suspicious. For the families of the four young Israeli soldiers murdered last week by a Palestinian driving a massive truck, life will forever be divided between the time before they received the grim news of the loss of their loved ones and that afterwards.
These observations are, at one level, so trite that I don't even know why I'm sharing them. My guess, however, is that most of us can benefit from a heightened sensitivity to precisely how tenuous our existence is
When things are going well, we tend to attribute our success to our own talents. When we hear that a friend or acquaintance has lost their job, for instance, our first reaction is to convince ourselves that they must have failed in some way and that as long as we perform well our own employment is secure. In those calculations, we ape those fools who go to a shivah house and seek every detail of the niftar's last days in order to find some point of distinction that will allow them continue hoping that the same fate does not await them.
Focusing on the fact that our security hangs on a string at every moment can be a powerful spur to davening with real kavanah and to connecting to Hasheml. It forces us to look for a source of security and joy that is not dependent upon on the external circumstances of our lives. And that can only be through our relationship to Hashem.
If we work on doing that, we will be much better able to deal with those inevitable blows against which we could have done nothing to defend. In that my neighbor the pharmacist provided an admirable example. She did not respond to her imminent loss of a job with despair or anger. Nor did she follow the course of so many unemployed Americans in recent years and just apply for disability insurance – a trend that has dramatically shrunken the percentage of citizens in the U.S. workforce.
"I'll just have to grow up," she told me. For years, she had been fortunate to have a great job, close to home, with good conditions, she said. But if that is not to be, she would just have to find another position without those conveniences. She was determined, not defeated.
And I would guess that having developed a relationship with Hashem in good times had prepared her for the setbacks as well.
Caring About American Jewry Despite Everything
Last week, we wrote about Adam Garfinkle's warning to Israeli leaders not to become too emboldened by the apparent strong support of the incoming Trump administration lest they be tempted to take steps that they might later regret.
Gil Troy, writing in the Jerusalem Post, echoed that advice, but added a new twist of his own why Prime Minister Netanyahu should not make too great a public show of his excitement over the new Trump administration. Troy urged Netanyahu to respect American Jewish sensibilities, and recall that "more than two-thirds of American Jews don't just oppose Trump but loathe him." He warned that "hit pieces" with titles like "liberal Zionism in the age of Trump" accusing right-wing Zionists of ignoring the anti-semitism of many of Trump's supporters because he is pro-Israel are in galleys already.
My first reaction was: Who cares about that two-thirds of American Jewry? When have they shown any concern with the situation in which Israeli Jews find themselves, with hostile neighbors on every border? They remain besotted with an American president who has virtually guaranteed that Iran will have nuclear weapons and the ballistic weapons to deliver them in less than a decade. "Why do you want me dead?" I often feel like asking my American relatives.
Are two-thirds of American Jews worried about right-wing anti-Semitism? Maybe they should show a little more concern with the left-wing anti-Semitism that has become such a potent force on so many campuses and caused many Jewish students to feel physically unsafe, especially if they are brazen enough to identify with Israel in any way.
Have American Jews, or at least the 70 per cent who vote sheep-like for the Democratic Party in every national election, bothered to ask themselves why even center-left Israelis, like Labor Party chief Isaac Herzog, no longer think there is a possibility of two-state solution in the near future? Has it occurred to them that something more than fanatical nationalism might explain Israeli skepticism? Do they remember the messianic enthusiasm that greeted the Oslo Accords in Israel, or asked where it went and why?
As Elliot Abrams argued compellingly in the April Mosaic, the changes in American Jewish opinions of Israel, pace Peter Beinart, have little to do with the conduct of successive Israeli governments, and everything to do with changes in the American Jewish community. The principle explanation for the dramatic differences between younger and older "Jews" (i.e., those classified as such by the Pew study and similar surveys) is that so many of the younger generation are products of intermarriage. And even the Jewish spouses in intermarriages, according to the most recent Pew study, have dramatically lower feelings of identification with the Jewish people and of responsibility for their fellow Jews than the non-intermarried. Eighty per cent of their children will marry non-Jews.
For too many American Jews, Abrams concluded, the defense of Israel is an unwelcome burden imposed on them by ungrateful Israelis. And they think nothing of demanding that an embattled Jewish state make life and death decisions about the security of its citizens based on what will make life more comfortable for American Jewish students on campus.
But Israeli Jews will not endanger themselves and their children so that American Jews will never be made to feel uncomfortable being identified as Jews.
SO MUCH FOR MY INITIAL REACTION to Troy's suggestion. But on further reflection I decided he was right. True, many American Jews do not care about me or my family. But that doesn't mean I shouldn't care about them and their Jewish future.
Trips to Israel still remain the most potent means of attaching American Jews to some sense of themselves as part of a long-running story. The success of the Jewish Women's Renaissance Project with Jewish mothers and Birthright (to some extent) with younger Jews demonstrate that.
Israel's Jews have to make the ultimate decisions about their security, and the sensitivities of American Jews cannot intrude. But if a little less open rejoicing on the part of the Israeli government over the change of administrations in Washington will make it easier for American Jews to come on trips to Israel, then I'm willing to change the optics.
I learned a similar lesson a few years back. Addressing a group of Jewish students at the University of Pennsylvania, I made some aside about global warming alarmism. Big mistake.
It did not matter how good my arguments might have been. They were a distraction from the only reason I was there – to arouse their interest in Torah.
Never lose sight of your main goal.
Never Too Late to Learn Humility
Journalist Jon Gabriel makes an acute observation to which the rest of us should attend: "Humility is a requirement if you want to learn or write about the many subjects outside your ken. Journalism would be a lot better if our media accepted this truth."
I fear that many journalists and opinion writers fall into the trap of thinking they actually know a great deal about those subjects on which they expatiate so confidently. Even worse, many of their readers fall prey to the same illusion.
So in the spirit of encouraging journalistic humility and in honor of Donald Trump's inauguration, I'd just like to share the opening lines of a piece by a writer to whom I'm particularly close just over four months ago:
I had an epiphany last week, as Donald Trump carried on a five-day Twitter attack against the family of a U.S. Moslem serviceman killed in combat, who had spoken against Trump at the Democratic convention: The election is over; Trump has lost; no need to read a single additional piece of election prognostication.