“To a good year!”
Jews have been saying those words in Hebrew — L’Shana Tova! — for thousands of years. In the next few weeks, as we celebrate Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Jews across the world will once again express this ancient salutation. It’s not an empty greeting, but a personal expression of hope and well-wishes to each other, to Jews everywhere and, indeed, to all of humanity.
But what exactly constitutes a “good year” for Jews?
Antisemitism will certainly not be eradicated. Existential threats to Israel will surely continue. And divisions within the Jewish community aren’t going away anytime soon.
So what are the proper criteria to assess whether a particular year is a good one or a bad one for the Jewish people?
Some might point to certain dark times this past year — and sadly there were many — and conclude that it was not a good year.
In Israel, a violent eleven-day “conflict” with Hamas erupted in May. Almost 4,400 rockets were fired into Israel, terrorizing millions of Israelis and resulting in the loss of 13 lives, including 2 children. Anti-Israel rhetoric spread like wildfire, as Israel’s enemies appeared to be gaining in resolve and military strength.
Across the world, including the US, there was a sharp spike in antisemitism, ranging from vandalized synagogues and cemeteries to brazen violence in broad daylight against Orthodox Jews walking down the street.
Yet in the midst of these problems, there were also many successes and sources of joy for the Jewish world to celebrate.
As the Abraham Accords marked a one year anniversary, Israel’s new alliances deepened and thrived, with trade with the UAE topping $570 million.
President Biden appointed numerous Jews to the most senior positions in his Administration, including the positions of Secretary of State, Secretary of Treasury, Attorney General and Chief of Staff.
Israel and Morocco announced the establishment of full diplomatic relations, including joint economic benefits and the opening of embassies in each other’s country.
Eleven countries — France, Israel, US, Canada, Australia, Germany, the UK, Hungary, Austria, Netherlands and the Czech Republic — boldly demonstrated their support for the Jewish people by boycotting the UN’s Durban Conference on the basis that it was antisemitic.
Israeli scientists and tech innovators continued to be global leaders in combating COVID, with significant advances in research, diagnostics, testing, screening, AI predictive analytics and software development.
At the Tokyo Olympics, Israel had its best showing ever — 4 medals, including 2 gold. Prior to Tokyo, Israel had 7 medals total in its Olympic history.
By any measure, 5781 was a year of both terror and triumph, of sadness and joy. The highs and lows came at a rapid pace, as if they were on a continuous loop, just like it has been for Jews for millennia.
In other words, 5781 was a typical year.
I have no rosy expectations for 5782, and yet I already believe it will be a good year. Yes, this virulent virus will continue to rage, antisemitism will persist, Israel’s enemies will likely launch new rocket attacks, and anti-Israel furor will once again flourish among too many people in the world.
Yet the Jewish people, who started as a small desert tribe 3,500 years ago, will surely continue to survive and thrive. Ancient empires and modern regimes tried and failed to eliminate us, and yet today we populate every habitable continent on Earth. Last year our population reached 14.7 million, the largest since the Holocaust. And tiny Israel, whose very existence is the ultimate testament to Jewish durability, thrives as a global powerhouse in business, science and technology.
So as we welcome 5782, we should not lose sight of the miracle of the Jews: we are still here and we’re not going anywhere. We constitute less than one fifth of one percent of the world’s population (about the size of Buenos Aires) and yet we impact the world in major ways, while keeping the torch of our faith and culture alive — and driving our enemies crazy.
In the coming year, we are sure to once again see our share of tough and tragic days. But there will also be truly joyous occasions, each one a triumph against those who wish us harm and a credit to an enduring Jewish spirit that refuses to be defeated.
For me, perhaps the most lasting image of that spirit in 5781 was the sight of 22 year old Israeli gymnast Lenoy Ashram standing proudly on the medal platform, tearfully accepting her gold medal, as Hatikvah (Hope) played and a large Israeli flag was slowly raised.
If that isn’t the perfect metaphor for Jewish survival, resilience and tenacity — eternal traits of that proud tribe — I don’t know what is.
Yes, I am certain 5782 will be a very good year. It already is.