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Darkness in Summertime

These are the last days of summer, when the weather starts to change, the kids return to school and life settles back into its workaday routine. During these days, Jewish tradition commands us to stop, breathe deep and take a long look at where we have been and where we are headed.

Where have we been? It’s hard to say. Many of us were swimming, hiking, flying off to distant places, barbecuing and tending our gardens. Around us, the economy teetered on the brink of what looked like possible disaster. The bloodshed continued in Iraq, with no end in sight. The president, though nearly record-setting in his unpopularity, dug in his heels and vowed to stay the course, vetoing funds for children’s health while his senior aides went scurrying for the exits.

It was, not surprisingly, a surprisingly warm summer — and the hurricane season now under way has already set new records — but climate change seemed to have taken on a weary air of inevitability. To top it off, Hank Aaron’s home-run record was broken, sort of, but the triumph became just one more ugly scandal.

In Israel, there wasn’t even that much news. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas hunkered down for what insiders said were intense peace talks, but hardly anyone believed anything would come of it. Towns in the Negev continued getting shelled from Gaza, and opposition leaders demanded that the government put a stop to it, though nobody had a clue how to do that.

Politicians railed about Tel Aviv slackers who dodged the draft, but most of those youths barely heard the complaints, having long since ceased to read newspapers. If they did read the papers, they learned mostly about local murders, strikes, government corruption and soccer scandals.

The big stories — war and peace, terrorism and security — were too repetitive to bother reporting. Those that were worth reporting were usually too terrifying to think about. And we haven’t yet mentioned Iran.

Looking around us as we prepare for the Days of Awe and the season of atonement, we might be forgiven for wondering just what sins we are supposed to be atoning for. What, we wonder, could we possibly have done to deserve all this? How many times can we vow to respect our neighbors, be honest in our dealings, try to add light to the world, when darkness seems only to grow thicker?

And yet, we know that when the shofar blows next week to bring in the new year, we will make our vows, each in our own way, because we know we must. We see the darkness gathering, but the coming of the new year reminds us that despair is the greatest sin of all. We know, too, that winter is followed by spring, and our gardens will still need tending.

We at the Forward wish our readers a happy, healthy and peaceful New Year.

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