Wasting time yesterday morning, I responded to a survey from Tablet, an online magazine of Jewish culture, asking questions about how Jews see the world.
I am Jewish. Extremely secular for sure, but definitely Jewish in my heart and soul.
It was a quick survey, all multiple-choice questions* except the last one which I'll paraphrase:
In one word, how do you feel about things right now?
* [Take the survey yourself at https://mailchi.mp/tabletmag/tell-us-how-you-really-feel?e=5772440b15]
Only one word? Wow.
I thought a bit then answered: "Despairing."
Yes, it's Thanksgiving and yes, I feel deeply thankful as well. More about that to come.
But only one word? It's not "thankful." Not right now.
Take the Middle East. I've long held ambivalent feelings about the state of Israel, which in 1948 was plunked down in the middle of land that had been occupied by Palestinians in recent millennia. How could that go well?
Now Palestinians and Israelis are killing each other again. I still feel ambivalent about Israel but hey: I am a Jew. We're talking survival here -- both Israel's and my own. If, G*d forbid, I needed sanctuary, Israel would be there for me. This thought doesn't make me happy though. It deepens my despair.
Take Ukraine. Even though the Middle East has pushed Ukraine off the front page, the fighting hasn't stopped. I'm not at all ambivalent about this conflict: Russia is the aggressor, Ukraine the victim. But while Ukraine has staved off the Russian bear far better than anyone dreamed, I fear that can't last over the long run. Russia simply has more staying power.
We -- us Americans -- are deeply threatened by both conflicts. Anything that further empowers Putin endangers us. Likewise Israel, which owes its existence and continued survival to us. Yet some of our lawmakers act as if it's not worth spending money to protect ourselves from the Putin threat. I can't imagine what they're thinking but I do know how it makes me feel: More despair.
I despair over the coming presidential election. I have been resolutely non-political in these essays and I'm not going change now; I'll merely say I see a different America than many of my fellow citizens, and I despair.
Then there's the dramatic rise of anti-Semitism in America. American Jews have done great. We're a lot like the Jews of Germany in the 1930s, more successful in a pluralistic society than perhaps any time in history. For many of those German Jews, it was easy to forget that history ... as it is for us now. But here's the thing about anti-Semitism: It's always there, invisible beneath the surface -- but only an inch beneath. Stir the waters and watch it bubble up.
What am I forgetting here? Oh yeah -- climate change ... guns and mass murders ... persecution of Blacks, Muslims, Native Americans, take your pick ... rampant incivility and gratuitous cruelty ... the death of critical thinking ... ChatGP frigging T ... lordy lord, where does it end?
And what might I do to make the despair go away?
Stop reading the news? I'm actually doing that a bit, which for me is extraordinary. I come from a journalism background after all. Information is my lifeblood. But sometimes I feel such pain at the headlines that I must look away.
Start doing good in the world? I already try in a small way, making monthly contributions to causes I hope will help the world to heal. But sometimes I feel like just giving it all away, were there a chance to thereby fix something. (Reminder: This is only a feeling.)
Count my blessings? I do that lots. I am a lucky guy and I know it. I also know how quickly one's luck can turn. America is a great place but a cruel place too. We're all walking a tightrope; people lose their balance and fall off every day. That's a good thing to remind oneself. Every day.
Maybe the thing to do is just keep breathing. Our son and his wife will be half a continent away, celebrating Thanksgiving with her family in Dallas, but our daughter and grandson will be with us. Even though this year we all are pitching in, today shapes up as a busy preparation day in my household. Then The Day Itself arrives tomorrow and we'll be happy in the company of people we love. Of this I am certain.
Meantime, I'll be reminding myself to count my blessings and pay less attention to the news. That's about all I can do. Maybe it's enough.
P.S. I'll end asking the question with which I started:
In one word, how do YOU feel about things right now?
(c) 2023, Frank S Joseph Author