Lost causes

It is as though all of our battles have been won and there are really no new worlds left to discover and conquer.  

Contact Editor
Rabbi Berel Wein,

Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel Wein
pr

The tendency of us old folks is to glorify the past generation of the days of our youth and to be skeptical of the motives and behavior of current generations. This tendency is so universal and pronounced that King Solomon in Kohelet warns us against so thinking for it is not out of wisdom that we believe it to be so. Yet I cannot help but in my mind compare the great causes that dominated the Jewish world in my youth to the seeming absence of such inspiring causes in the generation of my grandchildren.  

It is as though all of our battles have been won and there are really no new worlds left to discover and conquer.  This may be the view of a grumpy old man but please hear me out.  In my generation, after the destruction of a third of world Jewry, there were three main goals that dominated the minds and hearts of my friends and me studying then in the yeshiva in Chicago. 

The first one was how to go about rebuilding the Jewish people physically. There was no thought of marrying late or placing career or profession ahead of marriage and family. Jewish souls required Jewish bodies to inhabit. Anti-Semitism was still rampant in America but Jews began to stand up to it and became more assertive in their Jewish identity. We began to wear a kippah in college classes and on the public street. And our generation fostered a great sense of solidarity amongst all Jews regardless of religious levels of observance and political affiliation. And “never again” meant
We were never blind to the faults and deficiencies of the State of Israel but it was viewed as a work in progress, with patience and optimism.
what it said.

The second great cause in our lives was the State of Israel. We prayed for its success, hungered for its news and hoped to be able to somehow and at some time to be able to settle and live there.  The then very secular nature of the state, with its constant political, noisy bickering and its ingrained unfriendliness towards strangers from the Western world, was in the main ignored by us in our hopes and wishes for the success of the first independent Jewish state in nineteen hundred years. 

Israel was no longer a question of Zionism or not; it was the embodiment of the Jewish people and its future. Israel to us was like an arrangement in marriage – certain things had to be ignored in the interests of the overall success of the relationship. We felt that Israel was too fragile a gift to be subjected to the scrutiny of a George Soros or a J Street. And the wars that Israel was compelled to fight and the never-ending Arab terror to which it was subjected only served to strengthen our support and resolve.  

We were never blind to the faults and deficiencies of the State of Israel but it was viewed as a work in progress, with patience and optimism the watchwords of most of the Jewish world towards Israel. The very success of Israel has now allowed its critics – left, right and center, charedim, “modern” and Reform, etc. – to become open critics of the State of Israel and some even question its right of existence. How sad it is that they so misread the map of Jewish history and the import of current events.

The third cause that was paramount in my youth was the restoration of Torah study, observance and values to its rightful place as the fulcrum of Jewish life. There was an idealistic urge to build Jewish schools and staff then, wherever Jewish communities existed.  The focus was on sharing Jewish knowledge and lifestyle with Jews who had lost their traditions and heritage. There was a realization that this would require a great deal of personal sacrifice –familial, financial and even spiritual – on the part of these Torah pioneers. But somehow this bold idea found roots and growth in Israel and throughout the Diaspora as well. The cause of Torah engendered an adventurous pioneering spirit amongst yeshiva students who were willingly ready to forego lucrative careers in the world of commerce and the professions in order to restore the crown of Torah to the Jewish people. 

All of the causes described above have, to a certain extent, become victims of their amazing, near miraculous achievements and successes.  So perhaps what is needed are new challenges and causes to fire up the imaginations and hopes of the arriving generation and to continue in the never-ending process of renewal and regeneration of the ever-young Jewish people. I am certain that these causes will be found.