David-Seth Kirshner
Author of Streams of Shattered Consciousness

Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters – A Response to the Inexplicable

When the Cubs won the World Series last week, a 108-year narrative ceased and a new one was written. For all but perhaps 40 inhabitants of this universe of more than 7 billion souls, the Cubs were the lovable losers. They were the team whose fans chanted at some point during the season, “Maybe next year.” Suffering was the shared DNA of all Cubbie fans. For their entire life, they only knew of one title; failures. That all changed in the 10th inning of game 7 of this year’s World Series. 8 year olds, 38 year olds, 68 year olds and 108 year olds alike, learned a new narrative for their beloved baseball team: Winners.

One Wednesday morning later, I woke up to a new America that forever will change my narrative of this country in which I live and would sacrifice my life for.

I went to sleep in an America that felt united on common values and shared dreams of a better tomorrow. I woke up to an America split deeper than any pundit or soothsayer could have ever prognosticated. I went to bed in America. I woke up in Two-Americas.

We live in a country that is as divided as it once was before the Civil War, if not more. The voters have sung that song loudly and clearly. Today, I and many in my social and communal orbit, wake up to a new narrative and it is frightening.

New narratives are scary, mainly because they take us out of our comfort zone. They shock us towards paths not travelled and turns and twists we cannot anticipate. Oddly, Cubs fans know how to prepare for a season of hope in the wake of loss. They do not know how to shape themselves to continue their success for the coming season when pitchers and catchers report to spring training.

Likewise, this is a new America. We are 50 States united by borders, currency and a military force. But today, the people that make up this amazing Republic are not a ‘United’ States. We are common states, wildly different in our hopes and aspirations, our challenges and fears and our reality.

It is easy to look backward and wag fingers in the face of all of those that caused this divide and created this new narrative. That exercise will be futile because no real change can come from only looking backward.

The coordinates towards embracing a new narrative includes adding your pen to the proverbial paper. That process, while perhaps sounding kitsch, begins with listening. What has become evident is that 50% of this country does not know what makes the other side tick and what keeps our neighbor up at night. I come from a tradition that thrives on disparate views with mutual respect.  Seeking solace inside echo-chambers provides momentary comfort. Sadly, though, it deafens our ears to the world of our neighbor.

Perhaps most important to remember, is that we control the environments in which we live and work. How we treat the “other” in our society, the language we use around the dinner table, the temperament we display in the office is up to us, not our democratically elected leader. Our children will be more influenced by what their parents and friends do and say than they will the person who leads from afar.

That is why endeavoring to write a new narrative and uniting our states and our citizenry together again is more important than ever. It has to start today, not tomorrow. We cannot afford to wait.

The 2016 World Series and Presidential Election remind us that the unexpected can indeed happen and that can prompt us towards new narratives. The sun will continue to rise and set. That is beyond human control. What we do in-between that time is up to each of us.

About the Author
David-Seth Kirshner is the senior rabbi of Temple Emanu-El, a Conservative synagogue in Closter, New Jersey. He is the past President of the NY Board of Rabbis and the NJ Board of Rabbis and is a Senior Rabbinic Fellow at the Hartman Institute and serves on the Executive Committee of the JFNA. Rabbi Kirshner was appointed to the New Jersey/Israel Commission by Governors Christie and Murphy. Rabbi Kirshner is a National Council member of AIPAC and an adjunct faculty member at the Academy for Jewish Religion, (AJR). He is the author of Streams of Shattered Consciousness, featured in The NY Times Book Review (Feb '24) and has over 11,000 copies in circulation in its first three months since publication. He has spoken on his book and topics connected to Judaism and Zionism across the world.
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