Several years ago I wrote a song whose chorus runs like this:
Like summer lightning
Beyond the horizon
You know the storm is coming
You just don’t know when.....
That’s the way I’m feeling at this moment....unsettled, expectant, fearful of a storm of hitherto unknown proportions which may break over our heads on the night of Tuesday, November 8th, 2016.
During my vacation I read Larry Tye’s marvelous and captivating new book, Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon. As one who came of age in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, I came away from my reading of that work with an intense sense of loss. RFK, like most politicians (like most people), was a complicated mixture of ambition, self-interest, insecurity, idealism, commitment to family and patriotism. It’s fascinating to read about the political wheeling-and-dealing of that era. As undemocratic as it is revealed to have been at times, it stands in sharp contrast to the ideologically-inspired gridlock that passes for Congressional action today.
Tye chronicles Kennedy’s growth as both a public servant and as a human being, making his untimely death all the more painful to contemplate. We are left with so many “what ifs” attached to the truncated lives of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr.,Robert F. Kennedy, Malcolm X and too many others.
More than ever before, I find myself thinking about the Jews of Germany in the 1930s and the storm-clouds of fascism they saw–or refused to see--massing on their horizon. The parallels with our current situation are inexact but they are highly suggestive. Are we experiencing a paralysis of will fed by denial, as many of our brothers and sisters in Germany did? Have we imbibed the “Kool-Aid” of American exceptionalism that suggests “it can’t happen here”?
Jews have all-too-often been the “canary in the coal mine”. The vitriol, scape-goating, and vicious demonizing that have been unleashed in the course of this presidential campaign should feel disturbingly familiar to us as Jews and should serve as a dire warning of the price of complacency. It should also remind us of that most fundamental of Jewish admonitions, given voice by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810), “The entire world is a narrow bridge; and the most important thing of all is not to let your fear overwhelm you!”
Between now and November 8th, I will endeavor to hold my fear-of-the-storm in check...because, between now and then, there is important work to be done.