Las Vegas Sun

January 18, 2018

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Driving your destiny amid adversity

In High Holiday message, a rabbi encourages recession victims to overcome their plight, reclaim their dignity

Saturday night, Jews around the world broke their 24-hour fast for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. In our tradition, last night marked the end of the High Holy Days, in which we ask G-d to forgive us our sins and inscribe us in the Book of Life for another year. If you are reading this, it appears that I made it!

Last week, I published a sermon by Rabbi Sanford Akselrad of Congregation Ner Tamid in Henderson. It was about the kind and quality of discourse we have been having in this country, especially surrounding the mosque issue in New York.

Today, I am republishing a recent opinion piece from The Washington Post, “A High Holiday message for the victims of the economic collapse,” which was written by my good friend, Rabbi Marvin Hier. Rabbi Hier is the dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.

The mosque issue was timely, but there is no more important issue than the economic devastation that has befallen people of all faiths in this country and how we should face it.

I commend the Rabbi’s words to all Sun readers.

By Rabbi Marvin Hier

This year at Rosh Hashanah, special sensitivity is required while giving our friends the traditional New Year greeting, “May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year,” because for millions of Americans, it has not been a good year, nor are there any prospects of a near-term economic recovery. Millions have lost their jobs, seen their homes confiscated, their children’s schools closed.

As we usher in the High Holidays, what can our faith say to people who, overnight, have been swept asunder, lost their self-worth and dignity as well as their life’s dreams? What hope can we offer those who are convinced that life has dealt them a mortal blow from which there is no recovery? What is there to say to people who had everything and suddenly find themselves with nothing, who have to rely on assistance from soup kitchens and their clergy?

Judaism does have something to say to those who are suffering. The great 20th-century thinker, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, saw such life-changing tragedies as both a challenge and an opportunity. “Man’s task in the world, according to Judaism,” he wrote, “is to transform ‘fate’ into ‘destiny,’ a passive existence into an active existence, an existence of compulsion ... into an existence of daring and imagination.”

To rise above the challenge and change the fate forced upon us into a newfound destiny of our own choosing, that has the ability to take us to a new place that will enable us again to reclaim our dignity and be the drivers of our own destiny.

Like any life trauma, such a path is not an easy one to take — it requires determination, great courage and sacrifice, but it is a lot better than anguishing about what cannot be again.

Stephen Hawking did just that by refusing to accept his fate as a victim of ALS at age 21. Instead, he pushed himself on a path to become one of the world’s greatest scientists, authoring dozens of books and offering millions of people his brilliant insights into the Almighty’s universe.

Helen Keller, deaf and blind from age 2, had every reason to give up, but with her teacher’s help, broke through her isolation and became the first deaf and blind American to earn a bachelor of arts degree and author many books that were read around the world.

So did Thomas Edison, who was considered to be too unintelligent to be in school, and suffered from terrible dyslexia, making it difficult for him to speak. He patented over 1,000 inventions, including the light bulb.

In May 1940, when all of Europe fell to the Nazis and only England remained, Winston Churchill, who had worked hard to overcome stuttering, became the voice of Western civilization. Millions of people throughout the world would hear his unforgettable speeches that inspired the world to stand up to Hitler.

And many ordinary people, like the thousands of Holocaust survivors aboard the ship Exodus en route to Palestine in 1947, had the same attitude when they published a newspaper and called it “Baderech — On the Way.” What were they going to report? All their news was tragic.

They had lost everything, their parents, their children — their suitcases contained only bitter memories. They were without a past and no homes to go back to — still they had the courage to wipe away the tears, to pick themselves up by their bootstraps, and turn despair into hope, choosing to live fully — to smile and even to find love again.

They married, had families, built careers, some became businessmen; others used their terrible experience to become psychologists or teachers. Their message to the world was clear — despite everything they experienced, they were “Baderech, On the Way” to a new life and a better world.

Of course, the millions of Americans who have borne the brunt of the economic collapse would much rather return to their former stations in life, but in G-d’s world, they know there is no instant replay. All mortal men and women can do when faced with a life’s tragedy is refuse to yield and be defeated by a forced “fate,” but rather to find the courage to stand up and discover their new “destiny.”

Brian Greenspun is publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.