In My Own Words: The world in which we live

By Rabbi Rachel Esserman

My original plan was to write a column called “Entering the Third Year” about the continuing pandemic. Yes, I know numbers are down, but we’re not finished with this nightmare yet – a nightmare that has killed more than 947,000 Americans as of this writing. I was going to write about how I plan to continue wearing a mask to protect the immune-suppressed individuals I meet with during my chaplaincy work. And, if I’m honest, to also protect myself.

But when I look at the news, I see so many awful and horrifying things that I feel the need to comment on some of them. I usually wait to write until my thoughts are more settled, but I’m not certain when that will be because these issues have been ricocheting through my brain as my focus shifts from one to another and then back again.

I admit not knowing all the political and economic background of what is occurring in Ukraine. Guess what? I don’t care! Yes, I know politicians have to deal with those aspects of the conflict, but I’m a rabbi and only one thing matters to me: people are dying. There is simply no excuse for the blood being shed, which means there is no excuse for the Russian invasion, and, again, no excuse for anyone – Ukrainian or Russian – dying.

Sometimes, it seems as if the world has turned upside down and I’m living in an alternate reality. Are there really Americans cheering for the Russian invasion? Seriously, there are people who think it’s a good thing, that Putin is some kind of genius and that we should support a dictatorship over a democracy. And yes, many of these people are Republicans, the same ones who so feared a Russian takeover of Europe since the end of World War II. There are some Republicans who don’t condone this activity: Sen. Mitt Romney has said of that support, “It just makes me ill.” He didn’t completely condemn those who are going against the best interests of the U.S. and European democracies, but at least he was willing to publicly protest this anti-democratic, anti-American movement.

The Republican Jewish Coalition also showed some backbone recently by condemning two Republican representatives – Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar – for speaking at a white nationalist event called the America First Political Action Conference. Before you say this isn’t important, please remember that white nationalists aren’t exactly fond of Jews. If you think we’re safe if they take over our country, then you’d best think again. As Jews, we should remember that when the rights of one minority are threatened, then the rights of all minorities are in danger.

In the midst of all this, there are frequent e-mails in my inbox and opeds in newspapers about climate change. Surely there is someway to protect us against climate change and have a healthy economy, even if it does look different from the one we have now? Why aren’t we willing to work together to find a path with which we all can live? Looking at the projections of what’s going to occur have also sparked another reaction: Sometimes I think, “Thank God, I won’t be alive then.” That reaction horrifies me because I know too many people I love who will still be alive, so the thought of the Earth’s future scares me. 

I realize I’m rambling, but once I start looking at the state of our world, my mind slips from one problem or crisis to another and, unfortunately, there seems to be an unlimited number of them. What is the answer to all these problems? Prayer, social action, political pressure, boycotts – all of these and more? I wish I had one encompassing answer, but I don’t think there is one answer that would solve all our problems. What I do is a) remind myself that despair doesn’t help and b) to think of this piece of wisdom from the ancient rabbis: It’s not ours to complete the task, but neither is it ours to cease from it. Find your cause and work for tikkun olam – make at least one corner of the world a better place.