This is the way nightmares begin, or perhaps, end...It was an April day, and it was noon then, too...The world went on much as it had been going with a tentative tiptoeing alongside a precipice of crisis...And that’s when it happened. That’s when we first heard that they had come. That’s when we should have prepared ourselves for any eventuality, but we didn’t. Instead, we milled around like frightened farm animals looking for formulas and father images, while the Secretary General of the United Nations made the first official announcement of the arrival of creatures from outer space.
Those creatures are Kanamits. They are nine feet tall and they promise peace and plenty to our planet, making clear that their only intention is "to serve man." The Kanamits leave behind a book at the United Nations, which Chambers and his staff attempt to decipher. Only at the climax of the episode does Chambers learn that the book is a cookbook. The Kanamits claim to be interested in serving mankind, but instead, we learn that they are intent on serving man up.
To be clear, aliens haven't landed. But I couldn't pass up the opportunity to quote Chambers' words, "We milled around like frightened farm animals looking for formulas and father images.” Ever since President Obama submitted the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action regarding Iran to Congress for review, and we sat waiting for a congressional vote, we Jews have been milling around like frightened farm animals, waiting for the other shoe to drop, hoping that the other side, whichever side that may be, will lose the vote.
We've seen some rather impressive vitriol. Various Jews and Congressmen have been called “war mongers,” “puppets of the Israeli government,” “having dual loyalty,” and even a "kapo," the name given to Jews who collaborated with Nazis during the Holocaust. Some Jews were told that they would be hunted down and made to feel sorry for their comments. Rabbis have been cursed and called anti-Semites by their own congregants.
So this is what it means to be “a light to the nations?” When the going gets tough, we get going, against one another. When everyone else in the world would be more than happy to see the back of us, there’s nothing like a free-for-all melee against our own, where we abuse one another for a difference of opinion. I am not proud of such behavior. As a people, we are better than what we have recently seen.
Besides, we’ve been here before, and it hasn’t gone well for us. During the Second Temple period, a man invited his friend Kamza to a party. Only his servant made a mistake, and delivered the invitation to Bar Kamza, the man's sworn enemy. Bar Kamza arrived at the party, only to be told by the host to leave. Bar Kamza tried to save face, he tried to make peace with the host, he even offered to pay for the entire cost of the party. But the man would have none of this. Legend has it that this humiliation and dishonor led Bar Kamza to inform the Roman leader Caesar of an upcoming Jewish revolt against the Roman Empire. Bar Kamza's words put Rome on the offensive, and the Romans destroyed the Second Temple. The Talmud teaches that these internal tensions of hatred, distrust, shaming and humiliation of fellow Jews were precursors to a significant tragedy for our people.
We've been here before. It hasn't gone well for us. And we haven't learned. We keep tossing around words like "Nazis" and "traitors" because we believe that these words are precisely what the other side represents. The other side can’t possibly understand the truth or the gravity of the situation. The other side is just plain wrong and they deserve to lose. But there’s just one problem. The other side is our own, our brothers and sisters. The other side is just as Jewish as we are.
My how the mighty Jewish people have fallen. Broken and unhinged, torn against one another, if it's not a threat from outside that seeks our destruction, we appear perfectly fine to annihilate ourselves with vitriol, hatred, and distrust.
But there's a larger issue that few people are talking about. The psychologically appropriate term is "anticipatory grief." We are grief-stricken and find ourselves in mourning for tragic events that haven't yet happened. There's a pink elephant in the room, and he's wearing our fear and anxiety all over him.
Having named these unsettling emotions, let's talk further about what makes us afraid and anxious. Iran may have the capability to produce a nuclear weapon. Iran could use this nuclear weapon to wipe Israel off the map. If Israel were to be destroyed, the world we have known would become unimaginably different, and we would be staring face-to-face with a third world war. Beyond this painfully imagined scenario, as the alliance between the United States and Israel becomes increasingly fractured, as Jews we can no longer feel confident in who are friends actually are. Beyond nuclear war and diplomatic alliances, we also find a pink elephant closer to home. How do we explain the reality of our world to our children and grandchildren who will inherit this world from us?
That's enough pink elephants to fill a zoo. No wonder we are suffering from communal anticipatory grief. Without any concrete answers that address and help to contain our fear and anxiety, we lash out at anyone who approaches these subjects differently.
But we are better than verbal abuse. And we are stronger than we think we are. And regardless of what may come our way, we will survive. Between the destruction of the 2nd Temple and the founding of the modern day state of Israel in 1948, we went for 1,878 years without a homeland. None of us wants to imagine the destruction of Israel. Not after all we have worked, strived, and died for in the process. But if it came to it, we would find a way through, and we would do whatever we could to prevent such a fear from becoming a reality.
Against all odds, we have proven, as a people, that we could survive anything. In 3,300 years of history how many other peoples the world over have ceased to exist while Israel has remained alive? By all accounts, we as a people, you and me, shouldn’t even be here. Our Jewish ancestors who believed in a covenant with God, who believed that they had the capacity to partner with God in the perfection of the world, should have perished long before you or I even heard of Rosh Hashanah. We’ve been here before. But time and time again, as a people, we have looked annihilation in the face and we’ve said no. We’ve said no, together. We’ve said no, with respectful discourse, an understanding of different viewpoints and perspectives, and by proclaiming kol yisrael arevin zeh la’zeh, that all Israel is responsible for each other.
Rabbi Harold Kushner has taught:
The real fear of dying, I am convinced, is the fear that we will leave this world with our tasks unfinished, and the best way, indeed the only way, to defeat death is to live fearlessly and purposefully…Death does not negate the meaning of our lives...Your life is not meaningless just because it doesn’t go on forever. It is precisely because our lives do not go on forever that our choices and values have significance.
So what are we truly afraid of? And what tasks must we engage in to bring purpose to our lives and purpose to our world? More than the arguments, discourse, and differences of opinions, it is our commitment to our faith, our identity as a people, and a sense of our covenant with God that has kept us alive, against all odds. As long as one of us survives, as long as one of us remembers and can tell our story, as long as one of us believes, tries, stands up, fights back, listens, loves, prays, thinks, cries out, and hopes, as long as one of us continues engaging in and fighting this interminable fight for our survival, we will endure.
Will you be that one person? Will you be the one who cares? Will you acknowledge the pink elephant in the room, naming your fear and anxiety, and resolving anyway to define yourself by the ways in which you will live and grow, not by your worries and your concerns?
So what will you do this year to build the world? What will you do to ensure that our people not only survive, but thrive too? What aspect of Judaism are you going to commit yourself to? How are you going to carry on the story of our people and make sure that you teach it faithfully to your children? Don’t abdicate your Jewish responsibility. Don’t let your Jewish survival and the Jewish survival of your children and grandchildren rest on the whims of American politicians. Don’t leave your commitment to Jewish peoplehood in the hands of Iran and the possibility of a nuclear weapon.
Take your Judaism by the reins. Seize it, learn it, embrace it, practice it, and pass it on. Don’t be an armchair quarterback. Don’t be on the sidelines. Enter the fray. Join the fight. If we’re going to survive, then we have to understand what we’re fighting for. We have to live it, learn it, breathe it, and share it because it’s that beautiful and it’s that worth fighting for. Enable this holy special thing we call Judaism to survive, not because some external forces have given us a reprieve, but because you yourself made it happen and can be proud of that.
If we take our lives as Jews seriously by keeping Shabbat and festivals, engaging in prayer in our synagogue, donating tzedakah willingly, making a deeper commitment toward learning, participating in the life of our community, and working through acts of social justice to make this world a better place, our children and our grandchildren will take note. Our children and grandchildren will see that we have a spiritual anchor in an otherwise rudderless world, and that this spiritual anchor is available to them too. Come what may, this spiritual anchor will shelter them, challenge them, and ultimately, give them hope for better days to come.
But it starts with us. It starts with doing something, one thing, anything. There’s a powerful story at the conclusion of Letty Pogrebin’s novel Single Jewish Male Seeking Soul Mate. Zac Levy visits his aging mentor Rabbi Goldfarb as the Sabbath is approaching. In the wake of the death of his wife Malka, with no woman in the house to light the candles, Rabbi Goldfarb turns to Zac and invites him to light Shabbat candles. Pogrebin writes:
Hypocrisy, not gender inappropriateness, made Zach hesitate. He was about to commit several violations of the Sabbath—ride the subway back to Manhattan, turn on his lights, watch CNN, use his electric toothbrush, program his coffee maker. With all that, how, in good conscience, could he say the blessing?
‘I’d be honored Rabbi, but I’m not shomer Shabbos so I probably shouldn’t do it.’
‘Please, Mr. Levy. Enough with the ‘shoulds’ and ‘shouldn’ts.’ Just light the candles.’
Rabbi Goldfarb's advice rings true for each of us. Enough with the "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts." More than anything, we just need to recommit ourselves to the very heritage that has kept us alive as a people for time immemorial. We’ve become more concerned with Iran, more concerned with Congress, more concerned with pink elephants, and with who’s going to kill us next, with anticipatory grief, and tragedies that haven’t yet happened, than we are with the simple ability and opportunity that rests in each of our hands, to feel empowered to learn, live, and pass our tradition meaningfully and lovingly on to the next generation.
Enough with the shoulds and the shouldn’ts. Enough with the abuse, the vitriol, the hatred, the complaints, the insecurities and the fears. Enough milling around like frightened farm animals looking for formulas and father images. Let’s just light the candles. Because that’s what we’ve done as a people, and that’s what we will continue to do as a people. Because that’s a sign that our Judaism burns brightly inside and burns brightly for the rest of the world to see. When we start by lighting the candles, then we can truly become a light to the nations.
 Isaiah 49:6.
 Babylonian Talmud Yoma 9b.
 Babylonian Talmud Gittin 55b-57a.
 Special thanks to Jonathan Rochlin, a congregant at Temple Avodat Shalom, for informing me of the connection between Mark Twain's words and my own. I wrote these words without acknowledging Twain's sentiments, but nonetheless, here is a link to his commentary. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Quote/TwainJews.html
 Rabbi Harold Kushner, Conquering Fear, Kindle Locations 2025-27, 2064-67.
 Letty Pogrebin, Single Jewish Male eeking Soul Mate, Kindle Location 4525.