With apologies to William Shakespeare’s Richard III, “Now is the summer of my discontent…..”
Yes, I know that I have yanked that phrase out of its context and muddled Gloucester’s meaning, but the phrase captures so perfectly the emotional climate I have been experiencing these past few months: discontent…sadness…..despair….anger….vexation.
Some of it has been occasioned by the unremitting assault on values I cherish by a President and an administration that has laid siege to a vision of America on which I was raised and nurtured and that are bound up with my identity as a Jew: concern for the least among us, a commitment to the rule of law that is tempered with mercy and compassion, a commitment to the expansion of human rights and liberties, not its contraction. Lately, it takes effort merely to make my way through the front page of the newspaper.
Some of my discontent arises from my exposure to crises and existential challenges being faced by people near and dear to me…shattered relationships, terminal illnesses, family estrangements. These are things that all of us experience but my profession sometimes brings them my way in challenging, concentrated doses.
Thankfully, there have been redeeming moments…taking a new Jew-By-Choice to the mikveh and witnessing her joy in claiming Jewish identity; the exhilaration of musical collaboration on Boomer Shabbat; the satisfaction of working with like-minded others to help bring aid-in-dying options to Massachusetts and to defeat, in November, attempts to strip transgender people of rights granted to them legislatively just two years ago.
I do not take such moments of uplift for granted. On the contrary, in a “summer of discontent” each and every positive experience has heightened meaning and value.
I do try to remind myself of all of the things I tell others when offering rabbinic counsel: that Judaism has little patience for despair; that ours is a belief system that teaches us that we are each capable of helping to perfect this world and that we are forbidden to sit on our hands, expecting our neighbor to shoulder the burden. As our siddur, Mishkan T’filah aptly states:
“Standing on the parted shores of history, we still believe what we were taught before ever we stood at Sinai’s foot; that wherever we go, it is eternally Egypt; that there is a better place, a promised land; that the winding way to that promise passes through the wilderness. That there is no way to get from here to there except by joining hands, marching together.”
So, when the summer fades, I will mourn my losses. But I have every hope that my “summer of discontent” will yield to an “autumn of activism” when I enter the approaching new Jewish year because one simply cannot live on the knife-edge of despair.