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From Fear to Flight
It would be easy to let the ongoing angst we're experiencing these days paralyze our lives. Mail-bomb packages addressed to Jewish institutions. Unprecedented efforts around the globe to delegitimize Israel. Political campaigns that stoke fear instead of addressing the critical issues facing our country.
Last week's foiled plot to explode airborne bombs left us all a bit unnerved. Even if, as now suspected, the intended targets of the attack were the planes carrying the packages rather than the Chicago Jewish institutions to which they were addressed, we know it could have turned out otherwise. Think Mumbai, India, or Seattle, Wash., where in recent years, terror struck, extinguishing innocent Jewish lives.
The good news is the successful intelligence that, working in global concert, managed to thwart these attacks. But who knows how many more such dangers are awaiting take-off? As adept as intelligence agents have been thus far, it seems improbable that they will be able to terminate every planned assault.
More good news is that this midterm election season is now over. Whether the outcome is a good or bad thing -- and will therefore contribute to easing or exacerbating your anxieties -- depends on where you stand on the political spectrum. It's not a coincidence that yet another call for Jewish civility was issued this week in the wake of an especially vicious campaign season.
"We cannot sit idly by while defamation, demonization and demagoguery become the playbook for discourse," said Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, a national policy organization that issued the call. "Our tradition teaches us to respect the dignity of every human being. We should pursue our causes with vigor, but recognize at the same time that words can heal and words can hurt."
Lowering the rhetoric doesn't mean we become complacent, for we must remain vigilant. Nor does it mean naivete, for we must be well-informed to combat those who seek to delegitimize us and our causes. But it does mean that fear cannot triumph, provoking irrational, extremist and uncivil behavior, especially targeted at each other.
More coincidental, perhaps, is the timing this weekend of a "Global Day of Jewish Learning," inspired by the completion of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz's translation of the Talmud into modern Hebrew. Our sages' debates over the meaning of the Torah, which form the basis of the Talmud, are hailed as a model of healthy, vibrant dialogue in the quest for guidance and truth. Let the Talmud continue to teach us not only about the essence of Judaism, but about the value of civil and reasoned discourse as we grapple with the troubled -- and dangerous -- times in which we live.
We have enough enemies in the world already. So let's reduce the communal vitriol and find a constructive way to disagree, knowing that we're all ultimately on the same side.