Thursday, September 22, 2022

Thoughts for a New Year

I’m 73 years old.

I often ponder how much longer I will live. As I look forward to my grandson Finley’s bar mitzvah in November, I wonder, will I be around to celebrate all of the bar and bat mitzvahs of my three other grandchildren, the youngest of which is five?

Will I see them through college? Marriage? Children of their own?

Given my relative good health and medical science advances, optimistic musings are not beyond the realm of possibility.

But there’s a darker question that shrouds my vision of the future. Will my children and grandchildren enjoy the liberties and opportunities I did, not just because climate change and finite natural resources may put a limit on civilization, but also because political repression has come back in vogue, as highlighted by the Supreme Court ruling negating abortion rights while raising the specter that other rights thought safeguarded in the Constitution could be found not present in a conservative originalist interpretation of our founding document.

If any of my grandchildren choose to marry a non Caucasian could they be barred from doing as their heart desires? If any grow up to be LGBTQ, could they be denied the right to marry another LGBTQ person? Or have consensual relations with them?

Will they face restrictive housing laws?

Going forward young American women and girls will have fewer rights than their mothers and grandmothers.

It seems too many men, and surprisingly women for that matter, want females to be compliant. They seem to long for the time when women, including married women, could not possess their own credit cards, hold jobs thought to be the province of men, were meant to be homemakers and baby factories. Medical information and decisions were filtered through their husbands. 

Ever since the passage of Social Security in the 1930s by New Deal Democrats, Republicans have wanted to abolish it on constitutional grounds. Same with the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. It is not unreasonable conjecture and resultant worry that with a now firm grasp on the Supreme Court the GOP will try to fulfill its long term opposition to programs that benefit tens of millions, especially those who especially need government support during their most vulnerable years and medical engagements.

For those who view history with their hearts, minds and eyes open there are lessons to be learned from previous instances when rights obtained were retracted.

Rights for black Americans earned through a bloody Civil War victory were taken away by Jim Crow laws throughout the South after Reconstruction was dismantled. Legislation, including landmark laws such as the GI Bill of Rights after World War II, included provisions specifically excluding minorities from enjoying the same benefits as whites.

If you’ve been watching the PBS documentary by Ken Burns on the Holocaust and the American response you’ve seen our country’s countless instances of racist and xenophobic treatment of immigrants, Native Americans and the “different.” Their treatment belies the commonly quoted sentiment that America was a land of equal opportunity for all.

And so I wonder about our collective future. Dark forces are at work here and abroad. It is not democracy that is on the rise around the globe. Repressive regimes with sham elections are on the march. Until a scant few years ago it was inconceivable that almost half our country would not believe in the legitimacy of a presidential election. 

In the next two weeks during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services a central prayer recited several times, the U-Netaneh Tokef, will include a litany of futures we may encounter over the next year. Some good. Some bad. Riches or destitution. Peace, war, natural disasters. 

“Who will be at peace and who will be troubled;

Who will be serene and who will be disturbed.”

When the prayer was composed by an unknown author during the Middle Ages in Europe, the life of the “different”—the Jew—was an uncertain one. Eighty years after the Holocaust, anti-Semitism remains vibrant. Perhaps even growing. 

Repression. Climate change. Climate change denial. War. Book bannings. Economic distress. Crime. Immigration. Education. Health care. Energy. Housing. All, and more, divisive issues.

As the Jewish New Year of 5783 begins Sunday evening, these are issues that trouble and disturb people of all and no faiths. I have no magic path to peace and serenity. At least for me, I find some comfort in communicating my angst without shame or regret. 

To all I wish a healthy, happy and sweet New Year.