There was a time, in the not-so-distant past, when we called these waning summer weeks the “dog days.” It was a brief period to catch our breath from work and other obligations. We spent more time with family. We caught up with old friends. We dug into books that had been sitting on our shelves for too long.
Now, it seems, those days are precious and few. Our phones buzz and jingle long after the sun goes down with work emails and texts. And in this precarious time in America, where democracy is threatened daily by elected officials and conspiracy acolytes, we get lost reading news updates about how misinformation and dissembling have become normalized in our own country.
It is hard to step away – for a week, for a few days, or even a few hours – knowing that so much of this nation is embracing hate, lies and lawlessness. There have been over 300 mass shootings in the United States so far this year.
For years, white supremacists have been the country’s main domestic terror threat, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. And support for the far-right QAnon conspiracy movement should not be minimized. A poll last year by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 15% percent of all Americans and 23% of Republicans said they agree that “the government, media, and financial worlds in the U.S. are controlled by a group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles who run a global child sex trafficking operation.”
There have always been divisions in America, and our constitution allows free speech. But that freedom of speech is now contributing to a schism in our society. Neo-Nazis parade openly in downtown Boston streets, with police protection from protesters. Jews and other minorities are threatened daily on social media. There are plenty who seek to blame, and not enough who seek solutions and social discourse.
If you’re lucky enough to take off a few days this month, it would be wise to silence your phone and computer, and forget about the Internet and news cycle. As we prepare to enter the Hebrew month of Elul – a time of deep introspection – this is a good time to focus on one’s priorities. As Jews, we have free will and just one life. The question begs: How do we want to live out our days?