Tuesday, October 25, 2016 Tishri 23, 5777

Eyes Front, but ​First ...

December 31, 2009
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It is widely accepted as a truism that you can't move ahead with confidence without first reassessing the past. We American Jews are at a significant crossroads: These difficult economic times have been remaking the look of the community and the manner in which it is run in significant and fundamental ways.

When we look out into the world, we also see that anti-Semitism has made an unwelcome return not just in the developing world, but exactly where it began -- in the heart of continental Europe. And as for Israel, it faces the very real threat of a nuclear Iran.

And so, since we're on the verge of a new year -- albeit, a secular one -- and at the start of a brand-new decade, looking back seems more than appropriate. It seems mandatory.

So, where was the Jewish community in 1910? Some of us may think of it as a simpler time, and in some senses, it was. A very different Jewish Exponent reached readers' doorsteps back in the first week of January. (An interesting sidelight: The first Exponent of 1910 was dated Jan. 7, just as it will be next week.)

The cover of that edition had a poem on the front page, and an adaptation of a Sholom Aleichem story and five advertisements. (In recent years, the current publication experimented with a single ad on the cover.) The opening and closing sections were crammed with social news (the paper ran to 14 long pages, broadsheet-style, in a miniscule type that would make many of our current readers squirm).

Substantial issues were relegated to just four pages at dead center, beginning with the editorials. The lead unsigned piece began: "It is very generally assumed in current discussion that the complaint as to the present-day dominance of the spirit of materialism over the religious sentiment is even more applicable to the Jewish people than it is to their neighbors of other faiths."

There were also comments on a restrictive immigration bill, anti-Semitic incidents and stormy sessions at the Zionist Congress.

Yes, it was a different time -- slower, less complicated. Just look at the ads for shoes priced at $3.50.

But if we look behind the facade, we see that it, too, was a period of extreme ferment, when masses of immigrants appeared daily and transformed society. Globally, the forces that would explode in 1914 and cause the Great War (all of which would inevitably lead to the next conflagration) were under way.

But what also lay ahead was the American Century and great achievement in Jewish ranks, which would change the world as we know it. There would be tragedy -- devastating tragedy -- whose effects are still being felt. And yet, the Jews, however hobbled by internal and external realities, continued to move forward.

So what is it we should wish for now? Better economic times for all, more achievement, the reduction of the forces that create fear and hatred -- and widespread peace that will allow these wishes to become reality. 

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