In his final song, “You Want It Darker,” Leonard Cohen summarized a famous Jewish mystical doctrine that had contained the phrase, “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” There is a Jewish tradition that teaches that each person is a unique small light and that this light shines when we are nice to each other, and when we care for one another.
For thousands of years, our people have valued life and have made it our mission to extend the quality and length of lives.
In Israel, doctors, nurses and hospital staff from a variety of religious and ethnic backgrounds work together, under the Israeli organization Save a Child’s Heart, to give free lifesaving surgery to children from all over the world, including from the disputed territories. More than 6,000 children and their families have benefited from the generosity and ingenuity of the Israelis. And the Israel foreign ministry, MASHAV, has mitigated food insecurity and water impurity by sharing lifesaving technology with several countries. Israel has a long-standing tradition of extending aid outside of its borders, including to countries that have been hostile to it.
In the United States, Jews have taken our ancestral understanding of what it has felt like to be an outcast in so many places we’ve called home, that we have sought to make lives easier for people here too. In the ’60s, Jewish leaders worked with Black leaders to demand basic human rights that were most egregiously denied to those with dark skin in this country.
Two weeks before he was murdered, Martin Luther King Jr. said, “I see Israel as one of the great outposts of democracy in the world, and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land can be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy. Peace for Israel means security and that security must be a reality.”
Unfortunately, these days we’ve been experiencing heightened antisemitism, “less cracks” and more darkness. Here are just two of countless examples of anti-Jewish hostilities on local campuses: the publication of an article titled, “In Support of Hamas,” which contextualizes the terror group as sympathetic based on misinformation, and a student paper endorsing the insidious Mapping Project, which lists mostly Jewish organizations and their addresses with the call to “disrupt” and “dismantle” them.
In the entertainment and sports industries, some have been internalizing Ronald Dalton Jr.’s book and movie, which twists the truth and uses outright lies that negate historical facts in order to manufacture a narrative that demonizes the Jewish people. The artist formerly known as Kanye West, a popular song writer and singer, expressed some antisemitic views forwarded in Dalton’s creations, that Black people are “the real Jews” and that we, the Jews, are imposters responsible for their ancestral/generational hardship. He recently tweeted to his 30-million-plus Twitter followers that he wants to “go death con 3 on Jewish people.”
This toxic climate has confronted our people before. Decades ago, in the midst of other racially charged hatred against American Jews and the Arab boycott of Israel, MLK’s father, along with Rosa Parks and other Civil Rights leaders, signed a document supporting the Jewish people and Israel in the face of relentless hate. And through their organization, Black Americans to Support Israel Committee (BASIC), they bought an ad to go into the New York Times pronouncing their support. We still need the light of allies outside of the Jewish community to stand by us. Today, the Jewish community has many advocates, not limited to the tireless people at the Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel (IBSI), an organization that in many ways has picked up where BASIC left off.
Maimonides taught that our next action has the potential to hugely impact the balance of a person, a community, and the entire world. Though we cannot always control the influence of our actions, if it is done leshem shamayim, for a genuine cause, it is moving in the “light” direction.
By banding together, the Maccabees were able to succeed. By having citizens today who support one another, our country will overcome this wave of groundless hatred. The light of Tzedek, righteousness and caring that Israel and Judaism spreads in the world, will overcome antisemitism. I am a proud Jew who will continue to spread the light of love and Tzedek in the world, and reflect on the prophecy of Isaiah that Israel will be “a light for the nations.” I can only hope and pray that the influential individuals spreading hate, and/or their followers, will be able to “see the light” and transform the darkness they bring into kindling a few candles of love.
In his commentary to Leonard Cohen’s song, Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks said that Cohen’s message is that even in the midst of death there is life; even in the midst of hate there is love, and even in the midst of darkness there is light. Through the cracks of hatred we’ve been experiencing, we appreciate the rays of love expressed by others. The light from our friends, and from within ourselves, will overwhelm the darkness of those who seek to bring harm. Happy Festival of Lights! Θ
Rabbi Idan Irelander leads Congregation Ahavat Olam in North Andover.