The power of words

The Jewish calendar, the civil calendar, and the natural world all are conspiring to make us all uneasy this year.

On the Jewish calendar, it’s the Three Weeks, leading up to the emotional and rhetorical devastation of Tisha B’Av, when we read Eicha, a book that includes imagery that is too brutal to bear thinking about.

In the natural world, it’s the middle of the summer, still lush outside but punishingly hot. The world will offer us one of two summertime options. Either it will be so humid that we will lumber through a miasma of sweat, or it will be so dry that all the green will die and the dirt will turn to dust and clog our nostrils. (We tend more toward the grossly humid here; in Israel, where the Temples were destroyed, it’s more toward the cracked, sere, baking-alive end of the discomfort spectrum.)

And the civil calendar offers us more of the most bleak and terrifying presidential elections in any of our living memories. The dystopic thundering of the Republican convention presented a horrifying version of reality, and the Democratic email scandal, with its hints of Russian meddling bringing back nightmares of the Cold War, is terrifying. (But if you’re old enough, at least you can amuse yourself by remembering Boris Badenov and Natasha Nogoodnik. And quick — does Natasha’s curvaceous body, knife-sharp cheekbones, and, um, Pottsylvania accent remind you of anyone?)

Without being at all partisan, maybe we can acknowledge that there was at least one shining ray of hope at the Democratic convention. Michelle Obama, gorgeous, brilliant, articulate, warm, and elegant, talked about the future with fullness and generosity.

And, oddly, the focus of her talk seemed Jewish.

To Michelle Obama, everything is filtered through her children, and after that, through everyone else’s children as well. The need to protect, to nurture, to challenge, to mold, and to love her children, to understand that all her actions will affect them, to do the absolute best she can to bequeath them a better world, and to teach them that soon making the world better will be their responsibility as well, is a deeply Jewish impulse. Certainly it is not only Jewish, but it is unmistakably Jewish.

Just as words of blind, senseless hatred — of sinat chinam — caused the destruction of the Temple and led to millennia of sorrow and wandering, so too do words of love have the power to heal.

We hope that we all can cast partisanship aside at least enough to acknowledge love when we find it, and to share it. We can go back to fighting about ideas and philosophies, but how much better the world would be if love could undergird those fights.

About the Author
Joanne is the editor of the Jewish Standard and lives in Manhattan with her husband and two dogs, so she has firsthand knowledge of two thriving and idiosyncratic Jewish communities. (Actually that's three communities, if you also count the dog people.)
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