On Relevance, Survival

runyan_josh_otIn 2010, demographers working for The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore concluded that this area accounted for 93,400 Jewish persons, a 2 percent increase from the decade before, according to a similar communitywide study done in 1999.

In 1985, the statistic stood at 91,700.

These numbers are nothing new, of course, as the last time a study of Jewish Baltimore was commissioned was five years ago. But it helps to put things into perspective: In 30 years, the Jewish population of Charm City and its environs — in total numbers — has essentially remained stagnant.

It’s become common wisdom that if you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward. And that is no truer than here. Baltimore is actually losing Jews, and we can look to the only segment of the Jewish community that is actually growing as proof.

In 1985, 20 percent of the community was estimated to be Orthodox; the size of the cohort was practically unchanged in 1999, standing at 21 percent of Jewish Baltimore. But in 2010, that proportion shot up to 32 percent. Everyone else went down: From 1999 to 2010, the Reform community decreased from 33 percent to 23 percent, and the Conservative community decreased from 33 percent to roughly 25 percent. Given that Orthodox households are traditionally larger than their non-Orthodox counterparts, it’s safe to assume that the growth of that community has more to do with birthrates than switching identities; the vast majority of Reform and Conservative Jews living in Baltimore did not become Orthodox.

So where did these lost Jews go? As you’ll read in this week’s JT, it certainly wasn’t to other synagogues, which among the non-Orthodox set have experienced decreasing memberships pretty much across the board. The pressure has forced some, such as Temple Emanuel of Baltimore, to reconfigure their operations — the Reform congregation will rebrand itself Temple Emanuel at Beth Israel come July, when it will rent and share space at the Conservative synagogue’s property in Owings Mills. Three synagogues have partnered with The Associated to solve the synagogue crunch, including Temple Oheb Shalom, which, although its membership has actually increased, is re-examining how its members engage with Jewish life.

“It’s not necessarily how many people are showing up for a program,” Maxine Lowy of Oheb Shalom explains, but “how many people feel the synagogue is important to them.”

It’s a question that needs to be solved if Jewish Baltimore is actually going to grow by the time of the next study, likely just a few years away. Anecdotally, part of the answer appears to be in the realm of educational options: Beth El Congregation, whose membership has stayed static at about 1,650 households, boasts a growing religious school and is even opening up an outpost downtown.

Ultimately, agencies and synagogues are going to figure out for themselves what being relevant means in today’s Jewish world and how they’re going to do it. But alongside feeding the poor and ensuring the safety of Jews around the world, guaranteeing the survival of the community itself must be seen as an overarching priority.

jrunyan@midatlanticmedia.com

The End Goal: Acceptance

runyan_josh_otIn opening his tale of sin and repentance in 17th-century Boston, Nathaniel Hawthorne observes that “the founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue and happiness they might originally project, have invariably recognized it among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion as the site of a prison.”

Society, in other words, however grand its design, is messy and requires facilities for dealing with the less pleasant aspects of life.

This of course is nothing new; it takes no great wisdom to realize that with any economic system comes poverty, with poverty comes crime, with crime comes punishment. And unfortunately here in Baltimore — as with the rest of the United States at the moment — drug abuse, particularly in the case of heroin, is affecting all classes and races. In short, as Gov. Larry Hogan somberly said in his State of the State address, in “Maryland, from our smallest town to our biggest city, [heroin] has become an epidemic, and it is destroying lives.”

While the legal system has been the traditional method of combatting drug use, in the past few years, public health advocates have turned to drug treatment programs as more humane ways to deal with addicts and the addictions that have ruined their lives. But as you’ll read in this week’s JT, the planned expansion of one drug treatment center to the northwest neighborhood of Mount Washington is having neighbors cry foul: Heroin addiction is not their problem, they say, and the placement of the Maryland Addiction Recovery Center in their corner of Baltimore will invite an “outside” problem to their backyard.

As it turns out, “not in my backyard” is a phrase you’ll see again in a story about the planned construction, much to the dismay of state Del. Dana Stein and other neighbors, of a synagogue primarily for Russian-speaking immigrants on Stevenson Road in Baltimore County. Houses of worship and drug treatment facilities have little in common, to be sure, but they both are able to spark the ire of people who wish to live in tranquility and out of sight of such contagions as drug abuse and traffic.

That’s not to say that anyone who wishes a church, synagogue, hospital, school, jail or courthouse to be located there and not here is inherently wrong. Everyone has an implied right to peace and quiet, just as the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 gives houses of worship the inherent right to build in residential areas. Where those rights collide and who triumphs is the purview of politics; assuming no one gets trampled in the course of due process, a just decision can be expected.

But it does beg the question: Is it fair for an urbanite to move to the suburbs in the search for pristine views of nature and then condemn a future neighbor for blocking his view in doing the exact same thing? Is it just for members of society to ignore the fact that there are those near, but likely unseen, who are desperate for help?

The Jewish community, for one, takes pride in its mission to help the downtrodden, be they addicts or immigrants. Here’s hoping that the end goal is achieved: universal acceptance of all.

jrunyan@midatlanticmedia.com

Embrace Our Values

runyan_josh_otThere was a time when an employer could legally discriminate against a disabled employee, when disabled individuals could legally be excluded from public facilities, when a business could withhold services from a disabled customer. And it wasn’t that long ago.

Can you believe it?

With an eye on the seventh consecutive year in which Jewish communities around the country have observed Jewish Disability Awareness Month — it began on Feb. 1 — the JT has focused this week’s cover story on the 25 years since President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law. The legislation officially prohibited such discrimination outlined above, enshrining protections for disabled men, women and children as part of the country’s civil rights guarantees, and because of it, the United States is a more welcoming and accommodating nation than a quarter-century ago.

But has the ADA been the panacea that it was promised to be? As reporter Melissa Apter writes, the jury is still out, with advocates constantly working to fix areas where the law continues to fall short.

each and every person, disabled or not, has a unique combination of abilities and aptitudes from which all of us can benefit.

How about closer to home: We all recognize the ramps now in front of our synagogues and schools, but how much work is left to do in the Jewish community? According to people like Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, president of RespectAbility and a frequent voice on opening access to Jewish communal institutions, schools, agencies and synagogues, while we are making progress, we must do more to embrace the disabled as full-fledged members of the community.

Just as in 1990, when the ADA was signed into law, the primary argument against instituting the special practices and services necessary to ensure that the physically and mentally disabled have the same opportunities as those without such conditions is cost. Let’s face it: Hiring extra teachers and case workers, installing extra equipment, changing personnel standards and policies — it’s all expensive. There are funds, both public and private, to help mitigate the cost, but change also takes time and effort.

Such concerns are legitimate. But so is the argument raised by Jay Ruderman, whose family foundation, among other projects, gives grants to Jewish federations to hire workers with special needs. The expense critique is “a cop-out,” he says. “There’s enough money in our community to do what we want. Our community is very focused on social justice, on being a light to the world that’s a very important value; unfortunately, we don’t look at ourselves.”

Ruderman’s point is that if we’re going to champion the rights of the individual and the unique contribution that every human being can and should make to society — both very Jewish concepts — we need to perfect our embrace of such values in our own communities as well. The fact is, for far too long people with disabilities have been viewed as inherently lacking, dependent on the good graces of society to lift them up. But equally true is that each and every person, disabled or not, has a unique combination of abilities and aptitudes from which all of us can benefit.

Recognizing that reality in practice will be the challenge of the next quarter century.

jrunyan@jewishtimes.com

All for One

runyan_josh_otTo travel through the Negev Desert is to subject your senses to a sustained assault. There’s the elevation changes, the winding roads, the soaring heat. But there’s also the beauty — the wonder that is the Ramon Crater, the inexplicable colors that use the region’s sandstone as their palette.

It is here that David Ben-Gurion, founder of the modern State of Israel, saw in it his new nation’s future and it is here, in the regional capital of Beersheba, the university that bears his name is trying to realize his vision of making the desert bloom. Scientists are constantly refining technologies enabling agriculture to thrive in the Negev’s arid environment, and government planners see in the region a solution to the soaring property values and sky-high rents of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Put simply, the Negev could become a cradle of future Israeli settlement — it is already home to many kibbutzim and scattered towns — and a second breadbasket for the country’s growing population.

But as you’ll read in this week’s JT, the story of the Negev’s present and future is a complicated one. There’s the standard refrain leveled against development in any form, both the whimsical chords of those who protest any incursion of civilization upon unspoiled nature and the hypocritical ‘not in my backyard’ voices of those who have made the Negev their home but say that attempts to improve the region must go no further. And then there’s the practical views of those who want to build homes and schools and farms where none existed before.

What tends to get lost in this environment versus progress debate, however, is that an entire group of people, the Bedouin, have called the Negev their home for generations. And it is this population that new programs at Ben-Gurion University are seeking to include in future development projects. Without spoiling the ending, it’s worth noting that these projects provide a promising look at the potential of Jewish/non-Jewish collaboration in Israel as well as how agricultural development can be carried out in an environmentally conscious manner.

But beyond a natural curiosity and a case study in Israeli demographic, economic and environmental trends, the Negev Desert, or more to the point what is taking place there, provides a valuable lesson in how all of us can approach finding solutions to the vexing problems of our day. Questions of development tend to pit environmentalists against business interests, with both sides demonizing the other. Progress, no matter how it’s measured, grinds to a halt. But in the Negev — and this is probably unique for Israeli society — competing interests are looking for ways in which all sides can win something, as opposed to defining victory as outright defeat for the opposition.

Can you imagine if such logic were applied to other questions as well? The jury is still out on whether or not what is happening in the Negev will be successful, but the fact that so many different people are working together, and in one of the most contentious regions in the world, should inspire all of us to make our own deserts bloom.

jrunyan@jewishtimes.com

Let’s Hear From All Voices

runyan_josh_otWriting in the 10th installment of “The Federalist Papers,” James Madison decries the power of unchecked factions to destroy societies. In pathologic systems of government, he writes, “measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.”

His words have proved valuable for generations of jurists, policymakers and political observers and they’re no-less prescient today. Whether looking at an election taking place for seats on the World Zionist Organization or at the internecine dealings of the Baltimore City Council, both stories you’ll read about in this week’s JT, it would do well for everyone to take Madison’s philosophy to heart: In a society of competing interests, the best governments refrain from silencing minority voices, as it’s only through the competition of factions that the public good can be discerned.

Here in Baltimore, Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young stripped all but one committee assignment from Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector back in December. The move followed Spector being the only member of the all-Democrat Council’s 14 members to vote against two of Young’s signature bills.

At the time, Young cast the historically-rare silencing of a Council member as wanting to infuse the committee system with fresh blood. But last week, during a conversation with the JT, Young changed his tune: Spector was being punished for disrespecting him and siding with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who opposed the bills.

“Rikki has not been supportive of me … and I can’t have people … on my important committees … who are not supportive of anything that I’ve done,” said Young. “As long as I am president Rikki will never get those committees back. No way.”

For her part, Spector, the only Jewish member of the Council, decries the punishment. And although the voice of her constituents in the far Northwest 5th District — it includes Upper Park Heights and Mount Washington — has arguably been reduced, she’s still attending committee meetings as a vocal member of the audience.

What this case demonstrates is how the arcane workings of a small legislative body can quickly be abused. Young and his supporters say Spector has abused the power given her as a voting member of the Council; Spector and her supporters say the Council president has abused the power granted him by the city’s charter to decide committee assignments.

But the real lesson is how disparate groups can either work together to achieve the common good or spend their time negating each other. In the WZO elections, a debate is raging over the propriety of the left-leaning Hatikvah — its slate represents J Street, Americans for Peace Now and other groups — competing for seats, because the Zionist Organization of America charges it with supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. The debate mirrors a similar one last year over J Street’s application for membership in the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Wherever you stand on that debate, an acknowledgement that the Jewish community — like the population of any American city — is not monolithic demands treading lightly before casting any group outside of a political process.

Respond with Unity

2013_Runyan_-Josh

Editor-in-Chief

When news of the slaying of 12 people in and around the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo reached the United States, not a single journalist or editorial office in this country was left unaffected. Such was the case here in Baltimore among the staff of the JT, many of whom pointed out that those targeted for execution by two Jihadists bearing Kalashnikov rifles on Jan. 7 were cut down in the midst of an editorial meeting.

That they were targeted merely for practicing the time-honored profession of provoking the powers that be — in their case, religious fanatics — through the equally powerful medium of satire was sobering, causing much introspection by anyone who believes in the power of the pen. The pen is of course mightier than the sword, but what the case of Charlie Hebdo teaches is that sometimes those wielding the pen are forced to give their lives because of it.

And then last Friday came and with it an assault by an associate of the magazine’s attackers on a kosher supermarket in Paris’ 12th arrondisement. As you’ll read in this week’s issue, that gunman killed four people, all Jews, who were buried Tuesday in Jerusalem. Here at the JT, we identified with the satirists at Charlie Hebdo as members of the press, but we identified with the victims at the Hyper Cacher market as Jews. I would argue that the latter identification is the
important one.

While we don’t satirize in these pages and, unlike the cartoonists at the Paris magazine, do not seek to offend, from time to time there are those who are offended by something they’ve read or think they’ve read. Typically, as in proper Western fashion, they will respond with speech of their own, such as with a letter to the editor. But there’s no 100 percent guarantee of safety, even in the United States, as the attack last year on the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City demonstrated with frightening clarity.

But we are also targets by virtue of being Jews. That puts us — and I include you, dear readers, in this estimation — at risk of an attack by a bloodthirsty Jihadist or a neo-Nazi white supremacist. Beyond violence, it also makes us subject to the latent kind of anti-Semitism all too common in polite society and as revealed by a BBC reporter interviewing an elderly Parisian woman over the weekend. Responding to a statement of hers that equated the recent attacks on Jews with the growth of Nazism in the 1930s, Tim Willcox decided to throw Israel into the mix — the existence of the Jewish state or its policies hadn’t even been discussed — and told her that “many critics … of Israel’s policy would suggest that the Palestinians suffer hugely at Jewish hands as well.”

To assume that Jews bear a communal responsibility for Israeli actions is manifestly false and dangerous and Jews throughout the world are right to object in the strongest of terms. But while we take offense, we can also derive inspiration. If we are going to be targeted simply for being Jews, then let’s acknowledge the shared responsibility we have for each other, our communities and our institutions.

We saw it last week, just as with last summer’s kidnap and murder of three teenage Israelis: Jewish suffering is not a localized problem. And whether in Paris or Baltimore, the Jewish response to those who wish our destruction is to respond with unity and conviction.

Nous sommes Charlie.

Agents of Change

runyan_josh_otWith school out and use-it-or-lose-it vacation days beckoning, many spent last week relaxing at home or enjoying tourist destinations around the world. But for more than 2,000 people representing Jewish communities from South America to Europe, the last moments of 2014 — and the first of 2015 — were dedicated to everything from debating the importance and meaning of Jewish identity to exploring the intersection between food and spirituality.

One of the largest nondenominational gatherings devoted to Jewish thought and culture, Limmud Conference 2014 brought together activists, rabbis and scholars for five days of small-group sessions and larger lectures at the University of Warwick near the English town of Coventry. As an invited presenter, I witnessed Jews from all walks of life — some non-Jews participated as well — occupying roles they may not have been used to. In many cases, career teachers became students, while students challenged presenters.

In keeping with the Limmud movement’s values of empowerment, diversity and equal participation, titles dropped by the wayside. Even the vaulted chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, during his time at Limmud, was known simply as“Ephraim,” his first name displayed prominently in big, bold letters while the family name of “Mirvis” appeared as fine print on his badge.

What I saw has implications for how members of Jewish communities can empower themselves to be agents of change. This is all the more crucial when, as will likely happen during the coming budget fights in Annapolis — you’ll read about the $600 million shortfall facing Maryland in this week’s JT — community programs get weaned off of public finances. If such projects as reduced-cost housing for seniors, a major point of contact between elderly Jews and agencies of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, or day school disbursements see their allotments of state dollars decreased, they will put more pressure on members of the Jewish community to take up the slack.

And the need is not just in the realm of finance. Throughout the city and its environs, social service organizations can benefit from an increased spirit of volunteerism, whether that be by reading to school children or, as Melissa Gerr reports, assembling low-cost prosthetic hands for trauma victims. When it comes down to it, the ultimate value of community is not in the diversity of its members or in how much they benefit; it lies instead in how much they contribute.

In England, Limmud participants listened as former refusenik leaders Yosef Mendelevitch and Natan Sharansky reflected on their respective times in Soviet prisons and the worldwide movement to get them released as “prisoners of Zion.” They told the story of Michael Sherbourne, a British scholar of Russian literature, who became a conduit of information between Sharansky and other refuseniks behind the Iron Curtain and the Western press. Sharansky, who today leads the Jewish Agency for Israel, noted that Sherbourne would stay up at all hours of the night calling various telephone numbers in Russia until they got disconnected by the KGB, and then would help organize British support for Russian Jews.

In the same way, each and every person today, said Sharansky, has the power to change the world.

“It was students and housewives who defeated the KGB,” he explained. “If each of us is reminded what is our role in history, we can do amazing things.”

An Unsettling Future

runyan_josh_otBefore battlefield technology evolved to the point that warfare could be conducted remotely, before Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos dreamed up the concept of deliveryman-less delivery of goods, drones were much different animals.

Animals quite literally, in fact, with the term drones referring to male bees who did not make honey and did not possess a stinger. The other definitions for the term in the pre-Predator and pre-Amazon days signified just as much. Used in the pejorative, it could either describe a person who lived off the labor of others or who performed menial and unimaginative work.

Today, of course, drones, specifically those designed for commercial use — as opposed to those that continue to destroy during times of war — signify a more imaginative evolution of society, with people like Bezos betting that the day will come when you order your groceries online and within hours, an aerial robot drops them at your door. This week’s cover story examines the still-evolving regulatory and ethical framework behind this future. While the Federal Aviation Administration, which governs America’s airspace — the very environment in which drones operate — has yet to finalize regulations and procedures to make drone flying a safe enterprise, people such as Yosef Shidler have already made it a profitable one.

Melissa Apter reports that Shidler, owner of CJ Studios in Brooklyn, N.Y., used a drone to photograph this year’s picture of thousands of Chabad-Lubavitch rabbis in front of the movement’s headquarters, a first in the 31-year history of their annual gathering. Hollywood movie studios, as well, have adopted the technology, seeing in the unmanned aerial photography platforms a cheaper alternative to either posting a cameraman on a crane or aboard a plane.

But what happens — or more to the point, who is responsible — when something goes wrong? Just last week, a Hollywood drone left the confines of its shoot and, without direction or control, crash landed in a neighboring ranch. A couple of weeks before, a drone carrying mistletoe over the heads of diners at a TGIFridays fell on an unlucky customer and cut up her face.

The fact is, without government oversight, the air 100 feet above your head could well become clogged with whirring quad-copters and winged robotic craft. Who operates them, how they’re operated and under what training regimen are all questions that have yet to be unanswered. One Jewish businessman in Florida, Howard Melamed, has a plan for an industry-wide standard, but nothing on the order of the legal framework and courses of study governing the certification of aviators yet exists.

But there’s another question to ask. If the expansion of drone technology is just another step toward a world in which commerce and other societal activities are less reliant on human beings being a part of the system — driverless cars are already legal in California — how real is the danger that we may yet become the embodiment of what drones originally signified? Some printers already automatically order toner for you when they run low — the concept could be expanded to include any number of household goods — but isn’t there value in a person recognizing for themselves when there’s a need?

Judaism has always believed in the power of human potential to perfect an imperfect world, but we are fast developing ways to remove ourselves from the equation. The forward march of progress has always been a source of inspiration, but the future ahead, for drones at least, is an unsettled and sobering one.

jrunyan@jewishtimes.com

The Power of Unity

Take a look at the makeup of the Jewish world around you and you might find a series of fractious divisions running through the fabric of our global community. That’s no accident, as it’s largely the divisions that garner attention, providing fodder for much of the news that’s appeared in the pages of the JT over the course of the fast-concluding secular year.

There are Israeli Jews and American Jews, secular and religious, conservative and liberal. And as any glance at the letters to the editor will show, there is an endless series of divisive issues that set neighbor apart from neighbor, the most recent of which is the perennial question of whether Chanukah is a public holiday or a private one. What tends to get unsaid, however, is that the just-concluded Festival of Light can actually be both and that the plethora of disagreements that vivify Jewish discourse — the fate of Israeli settlements, the propriety of the BDS movement, gender-neutral ritual, the threat of European anti-Semitism, how to handle intermarriage and assimilation — actually pale in comparison to what unifies us.

That’s why the current campaign of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation to restore their many Torah scrolls is so interesting and important. They’re not the only synagogue to do so, of course, nor the first to invite its members to be a part of the process by assisting a scribe in fixing a scroll’s letters. But as you’ll read in this week’s cover story, their project has united those who may only go to synagogue on the High Holidays with those who never miss a Shabbat, and it has brought young and old together under the banner of what has been a truly unifying force for thousands of years.

One of BHC’s scrolls contains the stylistic renderings of three Hebrew scripts, amplifying the reality that anyone who knows how to read from a Torah scroll can pick one up anywhere in the world and know what they’re reading. The one believed to be the oldest complete scroll, which a team from the University of Bologna last year dated to between 1155 and 1225, contains the same text as one written today by a ritually trained scribe. So too does a Jew raised in Prague have the ability to pick up a scroll in Baltimore and read aloud for the congregation.

There’s no question that throughout the ages, Jews of all manner of background and socioeconomic status have joined together in the defense of the Torah and its study. But it’s not enough to merely acknowledge that such unity is there, even in potential. What the restoration at BHC further illustrates is that while the Torah is a unifying force, even it too needs to be tended; a Torah scroll whose letters have faded and disappeared is not fit for ritual use.

As we look ahead to the news stories that beckon in the coming year, such as the Israeli elections scheduled for March or the beginning of the 114th Congress in Washington, let’s all remember that agreeing to disagree is just the first step. Acknowledging that what unites us is so much more powerful than what divides us is the better prescription for peaceful living.

Let the Light Shine

runyan_josh_otJudging by the work of famous Baltimorean Edgar Allen Poe, the unknown realm that’s bordered between reality and imagination is indeed a frightening one. “Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before,” his narrator says in “The Raven.”

Indeed, in the language of literature both ancient and modern, fate and fortune are frequently described in terms of the semiconscious flights of fancy we all experience in the middle of the night. But as we all know, dreamers’ true successes only come when they’re able to bridge the chasm between dreams and reality.

Anyone who’s ever been forced awake by a fitful mind will attest that the first moments spent in darkness are disorienting. Misplaced shoes carelessly left on a floor can easily trip up an unlucky night wanderer; so as he stumbles in the dark, he grasps for the light switch to bring clarity to his predicament. Light goes on, darkness fades away, peace returns to the bedroom.

Sometimes, even the simple act of turning on the light is an accomplishment in its own right.

This week’s JT, coming smack dab in the middle of Chanukah, focuses quite a bit on light. It looks at how the Festival of Lights has become something of a defining holiday for Jews right, left and center, those “religious” as well as those “secular.” Most people identify the eight-branched menorah — the source of those lights — with the miracle of a single cruse of oil lasting eight days, but the holiday itself commemorates another, some would say “greater,” miracle: the military victory of a ragtag band of Jewish citizen-soldiers against a well-equipped and greater force of Syrian-Greeks.

But it could be argued that the greatest miracle itself is that, as they reoccupied the Temple in Jerusalem, the Jews’ first impulse was to rededicate the structure immediately, the lack of available oil notwithstanding.

Dreams are great, because they demand nothing from the dreamer. With your eyes closed, all physical boundaries fade away and the impossible not only becomes possible, but expected. But dreams, existing solely in the dark, are not real.

Fresh from their unexpected victory, the Maccabees could have been satisfied with “achieving” a dream. But they realized that they were merely grasping at nebulous figures in the dark if they didn’t let a little light shine.

It’s no secret that as Jews and as Americans, we live in a world challenged by existential threats from within and without. Assimilation and poverty, terrorism and discord, apathy and selfishness all force us to respond in myriad ways, and although we rejoice in miracles small and large, we stumble along, trying to find our way. We’re either dreaming or rubbing our eyes to make sense of the darkness.

As we celebrate Chanukah, may we answer such challenges by turning on the light.