September 16, 2004
Let's be honest: 5765, the year now stretched out before us, does not look promising.
It begins as 100,000 Jews amassed last Saturday evening in the streets of Jerusalem to protest Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to pull 7,500 Jewish settlers out of the Gaza Strip and thousands more, eventually, from the West Bank. Protesters whose placards called Sharon a traitor were told to take them down -- but that didn't make the sentiment any less apparent. To be blunt, civil war is in the air.
In Iraq, the death toll mounts and the insurgency has launched attacks in Baghdad. Military analysts are retailing two conclusions: If Al Qaeda had little foothold in Iraq before the war, that is now no longer the case. Moreover, the entire war has so far done more to undermine U.S. security than boost it.
We face the threat of terror here with a kind of inevitability, as if every day that goes by without an attack is proof not that we are growing more secure, but that our luck is running out.
Back in Washington, the neoconservatives who pushed war are on the defensive. Last year I wondered in this column if the neocons most vocal in support of the war -- many of whom are Jewish -- would, if the war went poorly, be singled out as scapegoats. The spying accusations against some neocons and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, say some analysts, are a kind of high-stakes blame game, a way of pointing fingers away from the State Department and maybe even away from the president. Could the blame spill over into the wider Jewish community?
This development comes as Jews in Europe face increased attacks from growing Muslim minorities, and -- a not unrelated development -- Israel's international stature sinks lower.
Did I mention Afghanistan is slipping away, too? (If we ever held it firmly to begin with.) Iran is enjoying our Iraqi misadventure as it dangles a nuclear threat just beyond our reach. North Korea does the same, and South Korea has now joined the game.
All this is happening against the backdrop of a presidential election that promises to be divisive, the results of which are bound to leave a good portion of the nation embittered.
Those of us inclined toward optimism have got our work cut out for us. If only one of these situations develops along the lines of a worst-case scenario, we face disaster -- and these are just the disasters we can foresee.
So, how do we approach a New Year with something akin to hope? How do we not gag on the apples and honey? The answer for me came this year not from any of the numerous experts I'm privileged to speak with, or from all the cutting-edge books and articles I get to read. The answer came in a poem by a Welsh poet, Sheenagh Pugh. On this New Year, 5765, I share it with you below, so that you can do what I've done: clip it, and keep it close.
Happy New Year. Shana tova u'metuka.
by Sheenagh Pugh
Sometimes things don't go, after all,
from bad to worse. Some years, muscadel
faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don't fail,
sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.
A people sometimes will step back from war;
elect an honest man; decide they care
enough, that they can't leave some stranger poor.
Some men become what they were born for.
Sometimes our best efforts do not go
amiss; sometimes we do as we meant to.
The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
that seemed hard frozen: may it happen for you.
"Sometimes" from Selected Poems (DuFour Edition, 1990). Reprinted with permission, www.dufoureditions.com .