By Doron Krakow
This week’s Torah portion is Parshat Noach—the story of Noah and the ark, amongst the most familiar biblical tales. We know about God’s decision to renew the world. We know that he chooses one righteous man to build an ark and to load it with every species of animal. We know that Noah and his family become the bridge between humanity’s past and its future. And we learn that 10 generations would separate Noah and his sons from Abraham. All that is certain.
Our mind’s eye quickly conjures the telltale images of this story: Noah laboring to build the ark according to God’s design as the rains begin to fall; the animals entering two-by-two; a world covered with water; and the dove returning to the ark with an olive branch in its beak.
The flood recedes, and the ark settles on Mount Ararat—after which our story continues. Here in the early weeks of the new Jewish year 5783 we are at the start of the chronicle of our people—detailed in the Five Books of Moses—told and retold each year. We, of course, know what’s coming. That too is certain.
But what of the moment Noah and his family emerge from the ark for the first time, stepping into a new world without knowing what was to come save for the faith they held in the promise of tomorrow? It is precisely that moment that has preoccupied me in recent days.
Elections are on the horizon, both in the United States and in Israel. As ever, the lines have been drawn between competing visions for society. Left or right. Democrat or Republican. Narrow or broad. Perceived interests and stark narratives. Perhaps more than in past elections, political rhetoric seems to be at a fever pitch, with candidates calling into question the very truths society has long held dear.
In Israel, on election day this Tuesday, the historic coalition now headed by Prime Minister Yair Lapid and comprising parties from across the political spectrum, religious and secular, left and right, Arab and Jew will face off against a coalition of right-wing and religious parties led by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. For the fifth time in less than four years, the election is expected to be decided by a razor-thin margin and electoral math may yet result in the need for still another election before a new government can be formed. Owing in part to frustration with continuing political inertia, a growing number of voters appear ready to support a party of the extreme right and Netanyahu, reversing decades of resolve regarding their voices as having been beyond the pale, now embraces their partnership, a necessary means to his return to power.
America heads to the polls a week later for the mid-term elections, with control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives in play. Thirty-six gubernatorial races will also be decided as will numerous state and local contests. The Republican roster includes a disturbingly large number of candidates who deny the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election, while on the Democratic side, a growing number of socialists and those with extreme political views seem to call into question the very foundations of the republic.
Campaign rhetoric is at a fever pitch, and voters in both countries are being led to believe that the wrong outcome will be an existential threat to the nation: The flood is coming. What will await us when we reach the other side?
Of course, there will be no flood, and the day after the elections the world will continue to spin, much as it did the day before. Ask the people in Pittsburgh, who yesterday marked the fourth anniversary of the worst antisemitic attack in American history. I watched the new HBO documentary, A Tree of Life: The Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting, counting the familiar faces—friends and colleagues whose world turned upside down on that terrible day in 2018. I still struggle to fathom how they summoned the strength to move on—to begin again, stepping boldly into an unknown world forever changed from the one they knew.
Our world rarely stands still. It changes constantly, and the question always is: How do we proceed in the face of change? We, the JCCs of North America, are and always have been community builders—welcoming the individuals and families that make up our Jewish community and helping them find something more, not only in themselves but also through their shared destiny as a community and a people. The warm embrace of those from the broader community whom we proudly serve, too, reflects Jewish commitment to them and to the society we share. Whatever changes are in store for our movement, for Israel, for America, and for the world, we stand ready to take those critical next steps toward something better—bolstered by the knowledge that this is how it is and how it’s always been done.
The late great Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks z”l, in his commentary about Parshat Noach said:
Faith is the courage to take a risk for the sake of God or the Jewish people; to begin a journey to a distant destination knowing that there will be hazards along the way, but knowing also that God is with us, giving us strength if we align our will with His. Faith is not certainty, but the courage to live with uncertainty.
President and CEO
JCC Association of North America