Today was my birthday, cementing me in my mid thirties. Gone are the days when I would open presents, and ride my new shiny red tricycle around the block. Gone are the birthdays where I would open up Madden 2002, and proceed to play it all night. Almost two decades ago I would drive my gorgeous vomit blue Peugeot to the gas station on my birthday, just because I was suddenly allowed to drive. It feels like centuries ago when I drove to King Supers when I turned 21, and purchased a beer, not because I wanted it, but because I could. A decade ago was my last exciting birthday, when I could now rent a car. That feels like a 100 years ago, not 10.
I suppose today was the last milestone birthday, in the sense that I can now officially run for the president of the United States of America. With the breaking news of Kanye West bowing out of the race today I think now is my chance. This country does, after all, need a viable option.
I am at that age where birthdays are stark reminders of our mortality, and are opportunities for intense reflection. They are bookmarks in time, and conveniently offer us the ability to reflect deeply on our year, and our lives until this point.
One year ago today I was at a rabbinical conference in Connecticut. Since then we have been blessed with a beautiful baby girl, we brought an incredible group on a magical trip to Israel, the entire world and economy shut down for 3 months due to a global pandemic, racism is alive, and its close first cousin anti-Semitism is rearing its ugly head in ways I cannot recall in my 35 years of life.
I would like to think that as my life proceeds, and as I celebrate birthday after birthday, I make personal progress. I would like to think that I grow from year to year as a person, and become a better husband, father, rabbi, and friend. And as I look back at these years ,while there is an immense amount I can improve upon, I am simultaneously overwhelmed with joy and gratitude in the way my life has progressed and in the direction it is going.
As the years pass, we should be growing, and improving, and building upon the gains and successes of the previous years.
Tragically, it appears that the same cannot be said about the state of humanity. Admittedly as a child I was not super aware of the goings on of the world, but it seemed like we were progressing, with the fall of the Communist Soviet Union in which freedom had been greatly suppressed. People were able to express themselves religiously, and politically with no fear of repercussions. After the horrific tragedy of 9-11 there was a palpable unity in this country unlike anything I have ever seen or experienced. While anti-Semitism has always existed, I do not recall it being espoused in a public way by leading celebrities and musicians. And being an American was viewed as a sacred privilege.
Now, years later, we don’t appear to be advancing– it seems more accurate to say that we are devolving as a society. The Cancel Culture has repressed free speech– people are terrified to speak their minds for fear of being vilified and publicly shamed and cancelled.
There is division in this country in what feels like unprecedented ways. When a global pandemic broke out, I–always one to try to see the bright side–assumed that inasmuch as THE ENTIRE WORLD is fighting the same enemy, we would rally behind each other and unify in a historic manner. But the pandemic, and how we ought to respond to it, became yet another political issue that splits down party lines.
It doesn’t take much to find anti-Semitism– just a quick perusal at Ice Cube’s twitter feed, or some instagram comments as a reaction to 50 Cent’s post calling out anti-Semitism helps one realize that anti-Semitism is WAY more pervasive and wide spread than most of us ever could have fathomed.
So what can we do about this super depressing reality?
I have no idea.
Ask me on my next birthday.
Maybe after another year of development and growth, and the relentless pursuit of wisdom, I will have more answers.