As 2012 draws to a close, the traditional barrage of end-of-year columns is well under way. The year’s ten best books. The year’s ten worst fashion blunders. The year’s ten defining political moments. The year’s ten greatest movies, and the year’s ten worst. As a result, I decided to finish off my year of writing to you all by making my own decimal list. But what was I to make a list of? That was the question! I considered my ten favorite books, but I’ve already written to you about at least half of them and don’t much like repeating myself. I thought of the movies, but I don’t believe I actually saw ten movies in 2012 (and half of the ones I did manage to see I saw in the last ten days, so my list would hardly reflect a fair sampling of the year’s cinematographic output anyway). I briefly considered rating my weekly letters and telling you which ten I myself thought were the most worthy, but that job seemed more reasonably to fall to my readers than to myself. But then, after considering my options, it struck me that what I really want to list are the prayers I hold in my heart for 2013.
My first prayers are for our country. As I wrote to you last week and as I’ve spoken about several times now from the bimah, the epidemic of gun violence in our country simply cannot be allowed to go on unchecked. I continue not to think of this as a Second Amendment issue per se, but rather that this is only tangentially related to the constitutional guarantee that American citizens be allowed to form armed local militias. Nor do I believe that this is solely about the scourge of extremely violent video games that has desensitized an entire generation to the reality of what guns actually do to people in the non-digital world. And I also don’t think it is really about our nation’s failure pre-emptively to incarcerate mentally ill persons merely because some specific citizen could conceivably commit a violent crime one day. All of those are issues to consider. Some of them are burning problems with which society must come to terms. But my prayer for our country—the first of my prayers for 2013—is that a national consensus emerge that we simply cannot allow things to continue the way they have been. And that the incidents of gun violence that have lately cost the lives of so many innocents are, contra the gun lobby, simply not the price we pay for living in a free society. My second prayer is an outgrowth of the first: that Americans open their eyes and look north to Canada, and across the sea to Japan, and across the other sea to Ireland and to Holland, and see that the possibility exists of modern, first-world, industrialized countries not living with what has lately come to feel like the monthly slaughter of innocents by deranged people with loaded guns in their hands. Both of those prayers would have been on my list after Newtown, but now after Webster as well…how can any of us not close the year in prayer for an end to all of this senseless horror?
And that brings me to my second set of prayers, the ones in my heart for Israel as 2013 dawns. The hostility of the world towards Israel continues unabated in most quarters. The United Nations, once a beacon of hope in the world, couldn’t act fast enough to reward the Palestinians for their unprovoked rocket attacks against Israeli civilians by voting significantly to enhance their status in the General Assembly. The level of anti-Israel sentiment in Western Europe seems only to rise as it becomes mixed in with overt, unadorned anti-Semitism. Most of the world seems to have made its de facto peace with Iran becoming a nuclear power. But despite it all, I still feel confident—and, inexplicably, incontrovertibly so—that Israel will find a way to survive and to thrive. My third prayer, therefore, is that that the citizens of Israel not lose heart and retain the same level of faith in their own future that I myself somehow seem unable not to feel. My fourth prayer, however, is that the Jews of the diaspora, remembering that in Israel’s peace lies too their own, remain just as fully supportive of the Jewish state as its own citizens are. Dissent is healthy in a robust democracy, but we have seen too many prominent Jewish people, including rabbis, publically embracing policies that cannot be construed as anything but inimical to Israel’s long-term chances for survival. My prayer is that those voices fall silent, and that we find it in us somehow to speak in one voice forcefully and unambiguously in support of Israel both in our own country and also in the forum of nations.
My fifth and sixth prayers are for the world itself. I could almost hear the cellos doing that tremolo thing in the background that movie makers use to signal imminent disaster as I read an article just last week in the paper about how Antarctica is warming at three times the rate of the rest of the world. The good news, sort of, is that the actual breakup of the Antarctica ice sheet will probably take hundreds of years. The bad news is that it appears to be coming…and will result in a rise of world-wide sea levels by at least ten feet. I don’t know why that specific detail, its long-term consequences lying perhaps as far in the future as the founding of New Amsterdam lies in the past, seems so ominous to me. We all know that something is afoot. The weather has changed noticeably in all of our own lifetimes. How to interpret the data, how to decide whether this is just what the earth “does” in the course of its glacial progress through the millennia or if we are seeing something new that humanity itself has brought about, how to know what in either event there is to do about it…or if there even is anything we could do that might matter at this point—to none of these questions do I have even tentative answers. And so my fifth prayer is that even the most inveterate naysayers finally get on board and that the human family, finally acting in concert, recognize that the Creator gave us this world to tend and to keep…or to destroy through our own inability to see the consequences of our own actions. And my sixth prayer is that God grant us the wisdom to know how to be stewards of our planet not merely in theory, but in practice as well. And that we find it in us to make whatever sacrifices are necessary to preserve life as we know it on our planet not merely for our children and their children, but for our descendants far in the future whose very lives will depend on the actions we do or do not take to address problems that we are mostly unable even fully to fathom in all their complexity and the solutions of which are, at least to date, known to none.
My seventh prayer is for my own congregation at Shelter Rock. As we enter our second half-century, we are faced, as you all know, with daunting challenges. Some are purely fiscal and will only be solved by Shelter Rockers being generous enough to grant Shelter Rock the financial stability it will need to flourish. Other challenges have to do with demographics and with changing attitudes among Jewish young people. And still others have to do with the place of religion itself in a digital world that offers venues for conversation and companionship, even for counseling, that to some make organized congregational life superfluous. And so my prayer for Shelter Rock is that God grant that our members maintain their traditional levels of generosity when it comes to sustaining our synagogue, and that we all remain faithful to the ideals that led the founders of our congregation to build in this place and to create the kind of community we have managed over these more than five decades to build, to nurture, and to sustain. As important as money is, we cannot solve all our problems by writing checks. We must also look into our hearts and imagine, then re-imagine, what a Jewish community possessed of so many of God’s gifts could develop into as the years pass if we remain faithful to our vision, if we remain wholly devoted to each other’s welfare, and if we are able to step aside from the concept of survival for its own sake and instead embrace a plan for the future that is rooted in our common desire to make of this place a house of prayer for all people and a beacon of sustaining hope in the great mission of Israel to bring redemption to the world. And that too is part of my prayer for the coming year.
My last prayers are for my family and for my readers. As many of you know, this is going to be a big year for Joan and for me. Our first child to wed will marry, please God, in August. I know many of you have been where we are about to go (and many of you have been there many times over, including with respect even to grandchildren), but for us this is a whole new ballgame. I’ve always known that a child’s wedding would be an emotional event, but I hadn’t really understood just how deep my feelings would go, how much of an emotional game-changer this whole series of events would turn out actually to be. I’ll write more about this in coming months, I think, as Joan and I figure out how you do this exactly. But my prayers for now you can probably already guess. For my dear daughter, I pray only that God grant her a happy marriage with a husband who loves her and whom she loves, and that the home they establish be a blessing for themselves and for all who know them. For my sons, I pray that God grant that they too spend the years of their lives living with people they love in homes filled with devotion, dignity, and warmth. And for all of you I reserve my tenth and final prayer. May God grant you all the happiness Joan and I are feeling as we contemplate the first of our children’s weddings. Surely, there is no greater source of joy in the world than seeing your children thriving and happy and well. That, unberufen, God has granted us. And so I finish by wishing you exactly the same! May God bless you all with pleasure from your children and may 2013 bring you all good health and all of God’s choicest blessings.