Rosh Hashanah, indeed any Jewish holiday, is typically a peaceful time spent with family and at synagogue, a time to give thanks for the Almighty’s beneficence and enjoy the companionship of loved ones.
But for three men walking on Old Pimlico Road last Thursday evening, peace and tranquility were relatively fleeting notions: They were fired upon by a BB-gun- wielding man, who, according to initial police reports, shouted, “Jews, Jews, Jews.”
While the incident has sparked expected responses — Shomrim is talking of security measures for Yom Kippur, the police are upping patrols, locals are expressing dissatisfaction with an increasing challenge to what it means to live Jewish in America — perhaps it can lead to a wider discussion of what identity means. Identity seems most important when it is threatened, such as the case this summer of the students of the Ramaz day school in New York who were initially counseled to cover up their kippot. But, as affirmed in a JT editorial last week, if identity truly means anything, it should inform every aspect of a person’s life.
This week’s cover story initially began as a case study in political identity: an attempt to track elephants in donkeys’ garb, to tease out the theory that in Democratic states such as Maryland, so-called “closet Republicans” would show their true stripes when a moderate candidate in the mold of former governor Bob Ehrlich showed an upsurge in the weeks leading up to Election Day. That the primary calendar shakeup gave GOP businessman Larry Hogan much more time than historically has been the norm to fight for media attention after Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown won the Democratic nomination further solidified the hypothesis that this could shape up to be a banner year for the state Republican Party.
What our reporters found out is backed up by polling data. With a little more than four weeks to go until voters head to the polls on Nov. 4, Hogan continues to face an uphill battle made all the more difficult by Brown attempting to tie the GOP candidate to divisive social issues. (For the record, Hogan has pledged that whatever his personal views are on issues such as abortion and gun control, he will not challenge questions that already have been decided by Maryland voters and their legislature.)
Whatever the outcome of the race, politics has increasingly become an identity question. There are women voters and women’s issues, military voters, liberals, conservatives, libertarians, so-called “Jewish voters,” etc. Any one group will have its collective opinion of how one of its members should vote, but pulling the lever provides a unique moment for an individual to consider his or her conscience and values and make an individual choice.
This is an important lesson in what it means for any individual constituent of the collective whole, for sometimes in life — and the Jewish community is no exception — striving for conformity causes a person to sacrifice his or her independence of thought. Where this is occurring, be it in the schoolyard, the synagogue, the street corner or the ballot box, it challenges the very idea that when Moses called the Jewish people together, he did so by noting their individual stations in society.
At the end of the day, we must be true to ourselves so that we can stare down charges of “Jews, Jews, Jews” with pride.