Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Year That Was

A dead spider is pressed into my bathroom ceiling. I don’t recall the exact date or cause of death, but it’s my understanding that it’s been resting peacefully above my shower head for some time now. One would think that I’d remove it, but it’s become somewhat of a symbol to me. With each passing day, people die, future leaders are born, humans weep and smile, animals graze and feast, and things change. But the spider remains.

With the birth of a new year, I can’t help but reflect on all that was in 2013. It was a year of cultural progression, triumphant tales of courage, and collective communal growth. It was a year of acceptance, inclusion, and coexistence. It was a year of untimely deaths, military operations, and the growing prospect of the impossibility of peace in the Middle East. It was the most notable year in my short time on this earth, one that I will remember for its magnificence rather than its monotony.

We said goodbye to one of the greatest Jewish thinkers of the modern age, a sage who stood firm in his beliefs, even when faced with controversy and opposition. We were elated to celebrate the 65th birthday of the Jewish State, a nation that has grown prosperous far beyond expectations. We failed to notice and tactically combat the growing anti-Israel sentiment within America, primarily on college campuses. We were rudely awoken by the discovery that the state of American Jewry is in peril.

We witnessed history, as California, New Jersey, New Mexico, Utah, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Minnesota, and Maryland legalized same-sex marriage, furthering the rapidly growing progressive movement in America. We gasped or celebrated, depending on personal opinion, as the recreational use of marijuana was legalized in Colorado. We watched as one of our own overcame debilitating fear and liberated himself from an encircling closet constructed by societal norms; then, for the most part, welcomed him with open arms. We came together as a community to recoup after a devastating and frightening assault on our holy objects and our religion. We united, divided, accepted, rebuked, and compromised, but in the end we spent the past year growing as a community, becoming appropriately progressive, while still remaining true to our traditional ideals.

We saw Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likkud Party remain in power. We held high hopes when news of continued peace negotiations surfaced. We cried, fumed, and sympathized when convicted Palestinian terrorists were released from Israeli jails. We held our collective breath as Israel launched Operation Pillar of Defense, for we feared a land war was imminent. We breathed a collective sigh of relief as a cease fire was reached just as Israeli soldiers were preparing to enter Gaza. Our hope for peace faded as negotiations proved relatively futile. We failed to pursue and promote peace, for we often found ourselves exceedingly enamored by the blame game.

We continued an academic reformation aimed at correlating 21st century resources and modern academia. We celebrated both the collective success of the school, and the individual success of its students in a year in which we said goodbye to an incredibly impressive senior class. We recently received news, both exciting and saddening, that a true pioneer in Jewish academia, the orchestrator of our aforementioned academic reformation, and his wonderful family will be leaving us upon the conclusion of the school year. We failed to do more, to delve deeper into Judaism and its fundamental questions, to adequately educate our children on the history of Zionism and the modern Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It was a year of immense highs and gut wrenching lows. Of incredible success and bitter failure. Of exceeded expectations and disappointing shortcomings. No year yields all that is desired. However, that absolute truth is not a justification for stagnancy. A new calendar year gives life to fresh beginnings. There is more that we can do - that we must do - as individuals and, more importantly, as a community.

It is imperative that we take it upon ourselves to inspire an everlasting fervor for Judaism, a love so strong that secularization and assimilation become impossibilities. We must abandon our often isolationist attitude and help revive Jewish pride within the other denominations of the greater Memphis community, beginning with leading by example. It is our duty to ensure that our children are sent off being adequately informed regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and are ready to confront and combat the anti-Israel sentiment that is taking college campuses by storm. With the departure of a communal leader, we must band together to ensure that the work begun by the Perl family perpetuates, and that the coming change in power serves as a minor bump in a long, relatively smooth road toward academic excellence. We must make a concerted effort to keep ourselves well informed about the contemporary issues that face the diaspora. We must, at all costs, discontinue the blame game regarding the Middle East, opting instead to promote and endlessly pursue peace. We must continue to unite, divide, accept, rebuke, and compromise, for it will continue to facilitate the growth that is so imperative in making this community as wonderful as it can possibly be.

One year from today, I will be immersed in an entirely new chapter of my life. I will be living by a standard set right here, in Memphis. I will act as a man who reflects his upbringing, and I genuinely hope that man will be respectable, progressive, well-informed, and considerate. I hope that man will reflect the community in which he was molded - a man who cares about being a Jew above all else, and defends the eternal existence of the State of Israel.

Unlike us, the spider will remain pressed into my bathroom ceiling, forever fixed in 2013, incapable of progression or evolution. Some things will never change - can never change - but it is, by the grace of God, in our ability to change those alterable elements of our community that desperately need reformation.

With immense gratitude for the year that was, I thank you all for reading, for being receptive, for being progressive, and for continuing to ensure a bright future for this community. We’ve done so much, and yet we’re left with more to do. Let’s do more. Join me in making this next year the best one yet.

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