As of this writing, it seems as if the “public option” in health care reform may go the way of other well-intentioned but ultimately futile attempts to persuade America to live up to its promise. In other words, nowhere.
The initial statement was troubling. The subsequent clarification didn’t help. Israel’s justice minister, Yaakov Ne’eman, may not be hastening the “Talibanization” of his country, as some allege, but his assertion that Jewish law should be privileged and restored to its “former glory” bespeaks an attitude that can have no place in the governance of a democratic state.
A year ago, there was a pervasive sense that the crisis caused by Bernard Madoff’s $65 billion fraud was more than just a financial debacle, it was a deep breach of trust, an embarrassing window into how Jewish America had lost its way in its too-eager embrace of wealth and easy success. Madoff, we discovered, had many enablers. So now the question is whether we have learned anything to reform our collective behavior and shore up the Jewish values and governmental oversight that should have stopped this scheme in its tracks. The answer isn’t heartening.
Hanukkah is a topsy-turvy holiday that often seems more commercial than spiritual, more exciting to children than adults, growing in importance the closer it is to Christmas. Its central beauty often gets lost in December’s excesses, its message of fierce self-determination at odds with the benign fuzziness of Yuletide wishes.
More and more, service activities are regarded as a powerful tool to shore up Jewish identity and values, especially for a generation accustomed to bar mitzvah projects, high school service programs and the kavod they receive by trying to do good in the world. But elevating Jewish identity to a goal of such efforts undermines their very purpose.