Dear WJC Family,
Years from now, when people look back on this moment in history, what do you think they will say? How will the tale of 2021 be told? Will this be a time of extraordinary heroism? Cultural unraveling? Is it the start of a new era or the beginning of the end? Is 2021 the year of the pop goddess, from a free Britney Spears to an ascendant Dua Lipa? Or the year of the refugee, from Kabul and from climate change?
Of course, these are most likely unanswerable questions, but one thing seems abundantly clear – the story of 2021 will depend on who is doing the telling and when they are spinning their tale. I was pondering the creation and telling of histories, called historiography, while reading an interesting and insightful piece in today’s New York Times by Lindsay Zoladz, “Let’s Look Back on 2021, When We Couldn’t Stop Looking Back.” In it she explores the raft of documentaries and news pieces that revisited the recent past through the lens of current events and cultural norms.
It is amazing how much cultural perspectives have changed in the last couple of years, perhaps because of the ongoing pandemic, the #metoo Movement and the racial justice demonstrations of the summer of 2020. I was reminded of the adage, “history is written by the victors.” We know the fallacy of that idea – it may be true right after the war, but history is ultimately written by whoever lives the longest and later generations will look back on the same facts and view it differently. Just ask the commanders who were victorious in Kabul 20 years ago how well the history they wrote stood up to the test of time.
The Torah portion this week, Vayechi, reminds us of another important piece of wisdom when it comes to history—one thing does stand the test of time: family. It might be the most consistent message of the Book of Genesis. No matter where this family wanders, what internal betrayals take place, how much strife and difficulty they encounter, if they are wandering or starving, stealing from or kidnapping each other—they always reconcile. Family is the core of their strength and perseverance and so this family wrote the history and maybe continued to write history for the last 3500 years.
So, how can we continue writing history today? Yes, it involves all the projects we have bringing goodness into the world amidst the craziness all around us. Yes, it involves studying the texts and maintaining the traditions and rituals that have guided and protected us for millennia through some of the worst the world could throw at us. But before any of that, the key to Jewish immortality, the key to Jewish contributions to the world and civilization, the key to sensing every spark of joy and beauty and light in a sometimes dark world and holding it up to be celebrated, well that starts with family. Now is the time to celebrate family and come together as families, our individual families (however you define your family) and our wider community of friends and the WJC family, in whatever ways we safely can. Whether you are able to be together in person or use one of the many creative and virtual platforms, celebrating each other and maintaining those connections is the way to gain strength from each other. If there is one thing we’ve learned, there are certain people simply it is unhealthy to be totally cut off from. Let’s find ways to rebuild and maintain those connections during whatever lays ahead.
2021 is almost passed. 2022 is upon us and whatever it has in store (and let’s face it, who knows at this point), we will face it together with the strength of love, tradition, and immortal connection. In celebrating the New Year, let’s celebrate that connection, let’s celebrate community and family.
See you in shul or online,