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How to have a joyous Adar in tragic, uncertain times

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The rabbis of the Talmud tell us that as we enter the Hebrew month of Adar we are to increase our joy. It is challenging this year to do that, as I contemplate the 17 innocents slaughtered recently at a high school in Florida, where an angry young man found it easy to obtain a weapon of war. The national response to this calamity falls to a U.S. president whose fitness for office is doubted by many and whose loyalty to the institutions and the country he is sworn to defend is in question. An investigation of possible collusion between his campaign and agents of Russia casts a shadow on his administration. The president publicly attacks the FBI, the press, members of his party and anyone else who dares to criticize him.

It is challenging to increase our joy when elected leaders in Israel likewise attack the press, the police and the judiciary in pursuit of narrow political advantage. I wonder where the grownups have gone, the ones who act as guardians of the institutions that protect our freedom. With the police recommending indictment of the prime minister of Israel, and the prime minister calling it a coup, who in Israel will look out for the nation to safeguard its democracy and justice system?

Will Israel’s president have a word with the prime minister or with some of the other leaders of the coalition? Surely this is a situation where the people ought to be consulted sooner than the end of 2019 on whom they want representing them in Israel’s Knesset and on whether the man who is judged liable to indictment is nonetheless worthy of continuing as Israel’s leader. That’s what democratic elections are for, in my judgment.

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At the same time, the institutions that are subject to attack are themselves in flux. It is a challenge to get people to pay for good journalism, and journalists sometimes seem to have become partisans rather than reporters. Judges, lawyers and the police often seem to be caught up in the political battles of our age at the same time they are expected to act as adjudicators of the meaning and enforcers and executors of the law.

In Ontario, on the eve of an election, the leader of the opposition has been deposed based on a television report from accusers whose identities are concealed. Some of those allegations against the leader have now been shown to be false. The former leader is now speaking out, denouncing the journalist, the accusers and his own staff who abandoned him. When I look around the world, this turmoil close to home seems part of a larger pattern that brings democratic institutions into disrepute.

As an optimist by temperament, it is unusual to find myself in such a sour mood about the state of governance in our world. Still we are expected to increase our joy.

I was recently privileged to hear a presentation at my synagogue by Rabbi Jennifer Gorman, executive director of MERCAZ Canada. Rabbi Gorman spoke about the status of the Conservative and Reform movements in Israel. While they are recognized and included at the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency, the struggle for official acceptance of Jewish pluralism by the state has been set back by the political influence of ultra-Orthodox parties in the Israeli government.

I wonder where the grownup have gone, the ones who act as guardians of the institutions that protect our freedom

As a result of this and other concerns, some North American Jews are turning away in frustration from Israel, and looking elsewhere for acceptance and meaning. But we who look to Israel as a central and essential part of our Jewish identity do not despair. Like Rabbi Gorman, those of us who believe in an inclusive Israel where all Jews feel at home continue to work tirelessly for a better future. This increases my joy.