Chairman's Message

Chairman’s Message – Fall 2010

Judaism is an optimistic religion. While Jewish history is replete with exiles, pogroms and destruction, it is also rich with triumph, victory and redemption. As a people, we have exhibited extraordinary hope throughout our arduous exiles; we have clung to our faith despite our suffering.

This ability to persevere, to see hope amidst despair, is reflected in the awe-inspiring holiday of Yom Kippur. A singular day in the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur is dedicated to intense introspection, heartfelt prayer and repentance. Remarkably, however, the Talmud tells us that Yom Kippur is a yom tov, a day of simchah. Why does the Talmud speak of joy in connection with Yom Kippur? Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik explained that whenever the Torah describes a holiday as a “day of simchah,” it also uses the term “lifnei Hashem,” before God. When one stands before God—even if he is fearful and pleading to be inscribed in the Book of Life—he is genuinely happy.

This is the secret to Jewish optimism: We stand lifnei Hashem, before God. Jewish history is neither random nor meaningless; the erratic, tumultuous events of the world are guided by God’s Hand.

Thus, our response to catastrophe has always been to rebuild—to start anew, to recreate what was lost. In the aftermath of the Holocaust, the survivors— many of whom were our grandparents and parents—did not submit to despair. Instead, they went on to establish the State of Israel; they erected a network of day schools in North America with more than 200,000 students and more than 700 day schools; they founded an astounding array of yeshivot and kollelim in Israel, the US and beyond, and flourishing, vibrant Torah communities from Bnei Brak to Teaneck to Johannesburg.

What is the source of our people’s eternal optimism? We reject the notion that events in the world are haphazard; we know there is a plan, there is a future. Our optimism springs forth from the well of faith. Optimism is the underlying theme of many of the articles in this issue. In his article on the recently rededicated Hurva Synagogue in Jerusalem’s Old City, historian Dr. Arie Morgenstern illustrates how the Hurva, a veritable metaphor for the Jewish nation itself, was repeatedly destroyed and rebuilt ever since it was first founded in 1700. To Jews the world over, the Hurva has come to represent hope, renewal and redemption, ideas that have nourished the Jewish spirit throughout our long exile.

One of the most remarkable features in this issue is the article by journalist Steve Lipman on the revival of Orthodox life in Poland. Who would have thought that the sounds of Torah learning would once again be heard in a country where nearly three million Jewish souls were brutally murdered? And yet, as Lipman reports, there is a small but growing ba’al teshuvahmovement in Warsaw and Krakow, the very places associated with death and genocide in our national consciousness. Is this phenomenon not worthy of theblessing “Mechayeh Hameitim”?

In this issue, we also pay tribute to Lady Amelie Jakobovits, wife of Rabbi Lord Immanuel Jakobovits, emeritus chief rabbi of Great Britain and the Commonwealth, z”l, who was known for her optimism and upbeat personality. My wife and I met her once and we were both captivated by her personality. No doubt, the English kehillah will miss this special rebbetzin.

Along the same lines, this issue’s cover story is devoted to the topic ofour relationship, as well as our responsibility, to the non-Jewish world. While tikkun olam is certainly an overused term in contemporary Jewish society, rectifying the world in which we live has always been our national purpose. What greater example of Jewish optimism is there than this? We believe that perfecting and repairing the world through living the Torah’s universal values, we can sanctify God’s name and bring about a better world. In a thought-provoking interview, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, who has spent his life in the public arena, expounds upon our task to bring Torah truths to society at large. Additionally, this issue includes profiles of various Orthodox individuals who have made sanctifying God’s name their personal life mission.

Of course, we offer our usual array of timely topics on halachah, Israel, kosher cooking and more. Before signing off, I would like to wish all of our readers a Gemar Chatimah Tovah. May the coming year be one of true blessing and prosperity for all of Klal Yisrael.

This article was featured in the Fall 2010 issue of Jewish Action.