Today is 01/24/2022 -

Congregation Beth Israel

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Andover, MA 01810

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The Rabbi’s Column

With the secular new year fast approaching and the year 2021 soon to be replaced by the year 2022, I have been thinking about how I, how we as a community, and how our nation fared overall this past year.

It was clearly a difficult year in many ways. The year began, among other challenges, with the January 6th insurrection in Washington, D.C. and the poorly planned withdrawal of allied troops from Afghanistan, and is closing
out with a marked spike in the number of Covid cases and with our nation still more politically fractured than any other time in my life.

Calling to mind the words of Charles Dickens, in a Tale of Two Cities,one can legitimately argue that 2021 was clearly the worst of timesfor tens of millions of Americans. Yet, as Dickens prophetically and wisely noted,
whether the past year, whether any year, constitutes the worstor the bestof times depends greatly on our own personal experiences, priorities, and perspectives. For example, while millions of Americans, for a variety of reason, have refused to be vaccinated, we are blessed that we in this country have enough safe and effective vaccines for everyone, and that a majority of Americans have cared enough for themselves and others to be fully vaccinated; and while the hospitals are now overrun with patients suffering from the highly contagious Omicron variant, we have doctors and nurses and other first line responders, who continue to make the wellbeing of others a top priority, even when it puts their own health and wellbeing in jeopardy.

With the winter of 2021 finding millions of our fellow Americans still without the basic necessities of lifethe number of persons suffering from food insecurity in Boston and in Lawrence, MA has increased significantly since the beginning of the Pandemic and during the past yearmillions of their fellow Americans have increased their level of giving tzedakah and of their volunteer efforts, enabling organizations like Lazarus House Ministries, Bread and Roses, and Cor Unum in Lawrence to feed tens of thousands of people each month.The Christian theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, brought home in the following wellknown teaching that, while we may not have control over much of what happens in our lives, not only the bad but also the good, we do have far more control over how we respond to the vicissitudes and everchanging nature of life:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things that I cannot change; The courage to change the things I can; and The wisdom to know the difference.

For example, while none of us, individually or even as a community, has control over the inflation currently ravaging the lives of millions of Americans, those among us fortunate enough to be invested in the stock market and to own homes, and who have seen their net worth increase greatly over the past year, have thus been given a choice as to how they spend their bountywe can think primarily or only of ourselves and our families, or we can reach out and donate our time and money to those in need, to Jewish organizations, such as our own synagogue, the 2 cemeteries
serving our synagogue community, ADL, etc., as well as to the greater communities in which we are blessed to live.

I would like to offer one additional thought to possibly frame and shape our perspectives on the past secular year, 2021, and on the coming secular year, 2022. To do so, I rely upon two very different sources. The first demonstrates the wisdom possessed by young people in our society; the second the wisdom emanating from the wise and venerable Jewish Tradition.

Bianca Andreescu, a Canadian, won the U.S. Womens Open Tennis Tournament in 2019, when she was only 19 years old. The past 2 years have been challenging ones for her, with her having sustained a number of significant injuries. Ms. Andreescu was asked this past October, what advice she might thus give to the British 18 year old, Emma Raducanu, this years Open womens champion. Her answer was: The advice that I would give her is to always remain grateful….and stay humble, and continue to work hardbecause it can all be taken away from you in a split second.

I close with a quote by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, z.l.”, professor, author, and humanitarian, who taught his students at JTS that feeling gratitudeshould be more of a state of mind, not just an evanescent feeling that we experience, only when something good happens to us:

Just to be is a blessing; Just to live is holy!

May 2022 be a safe and healthy, blessing and gratitude filled year for your loved ones and you!

Rabbi Howard Mandell