For many Jews this time of year provides an opportunity, not just for personal renewal, but for the revival of thinning bonds and the reestablishment of relationships that have withered. A pervasive mood of collectivism descends upon Jewish communities around the world and a numerous variety of well-wishing expressions are mutually exchanged.
Among the shared sentiments are the usual suspects of health, wealth, success and any number of cliché greetings. Although well-meaning, most are superficial and at some point develop an aura of monotony. So I found myself considering, what in truth would be the most meaningful blessing one could impart on a good friend, a significant other, a family member or colleague. What would I wish most for myself?
I came across inspiration last weekend while working my way through the epic two volume biography of Vladimir Jabotinsky entitled "Lone Wolf," which was authored by famed historian Shmuel Katz over a period of seven years. Jabotinsky, as a very young man, before he had been introduced to Zionism, enjoyed tremendous popularity as a writer. In fact, Katz points out that the writer and dramatist Ansky was quoted as saying, "there isn't a beautiful woman in the world who enjoys as much adulation as did Jabotinsky in his young days in Odessa." Then, something occurred that changed his life forever. It didn't happen to him but to others, yet it affected him so deeply that his life's focus and purpose radically shifted. From the sixth to the eighth of April 1903 a pogrom took place in the Russian city Kishinev, during which 50 Jews were killed, hundreds more injured and many women raped. Katz writes that "Jabotinsky went to Kishinev to distribute food and clothing. He visited hospitals talked to eyewitnesses and burrowed through the ruins." From that point on, he adopted the cause of Zionism with all his being, championing it as a path to preserving Jewish pride, dignity and life.
One can't help but wonder what it was about Jabotinsky that compelled him to give up a life of comfort, renown and achievement to focus all his efforts and talents on attempting to actualize a distant dream which had a small chance of succeeding. How many people do you know who are that sensitive to the needs of others, who care deeply enough to uproot themselves from their set path of comfort and routine for the sake of the greater good?
The tragedy of Kishinev took place 108 years ago and the furor that it and other similar horrors provoked ultimately led to the rebirth of Jewish independent sovereignty. There is no question that to some degree the goal of Zionism has been achieved and Jews around the world are safer now than they have been throughout the last millennium. But one could argue that as long as Jewish lives are at risk on a day to day basis anywhere in the world Zionism has failed to deliver on all of its promises, necessitating that we establish for ourselves new goals and set about compiling a manifesto that will chart the course to their realization.
Modern day manifestations of Jewish persecution live on. On Friday, Asher Palmer and his 1-year-old son Yehonatan were killed in a terror attack. Did even an act as horrific as the Fogel family murder change anybody's life so significantly as to fuel a movement whose goals where designed to forever prevent it's repetition? I know in New York, most shook their heads, attended a memorial service and went about their daily lives.
It seems that the most profound New Year wish is one that calls for not only a better future for the recipient but on their capacity to create a better future for others. One that challenges their apathetic and indifferent status quo and calls upon them, in the words of Holocaust Survivor Elie Wiesel in a recent Algemeiner interview, to "think higher and feel deeper." To actually care.
British statesman Benjamin Disraeli said it best, "Life is too short to be little. Man is never so manly as when he feels deeply, acts boldly, and expresses himself with frankness and with fervor."