O God, Our hearts cry out, “How?!” “Why?!” How did this genocide happen?! Why did You let it happen?! One and a half million innocent Armenians tortured and slaughtered in the most horrible ways is an abomination. This genocide –and I use that word with purposeful intent—is an insult to Your desire that we create a just, caring, peaceful and compassionate society on earth! Yes, we cry out in anguish, but we know the answer to our question! This genocide did not happen because You let it happen. It happened because—just like Cain when he killed Abel—we—the creatures you created to be in charge of and responsible for this earth—spurned your desires for us. You blessed us, Eternal One, with free will, and we so horribly abused that power! And so Eternal One, we confess our complicity in the crime of standing idly by the blood of our neighbors, and we come here today to bear witness to our failure to act as You wished we would act. We know, O God, the proper question is not, “Where were You?” The proper question is, “Where were we?” It is a question that haunts us today a hundred years after the Armenian genocide known as the Meds Yeghern, and it will haunt us 100, 200 years from today, and as long as humanity endures. We cannot undo the past—as much as we wish we could—but we can bear witness to it! We cannot undo the past, but we can learn from it! We cannot undo the past, but we can create a better future for our children, our grandchildren and the generations to follow! We cannot undo the past, but let each of us stand accountable if we fail to do our part in the future — by using the minds, hearts and talents with which you have blessed us, O God, to work to create the world of which the prophets Isaiah and Micah dreamed when they said: “They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain for the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Eternal One as the seabed is covered by water (Isaiah 11:9)”. “And all shall sit under their vines and under their fig trees with none to make them afraid! (Micah 4:4)” Amen
Do you ever wonder why we open the door for Elijah at our Passover Seder, rather than Moses, King David or the prophet Isaiah?
Without question, Elijah would have taken a place of honor in Jewish folklore for the righteousness and courage he displayed in the 9th century BCE. But he never would have become the most storied biblical figure in all rabbinic literature, let alone the one for whom we open the door each year, were it not for the last of the biblical prophets who lived nearly 500 years later named Malachi.
It is not clear how he came up with the idea, but Malachi concludes his brief book with a prediction that one day, Elijah – who, the Bible records, ascended to heaven in a chariot of fire – would return, “before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Eternal One. He will turn the hearts of parents toward their children and children toward their parents.” (Malachi 3:23-24)
With these words Elijah planted hope for the ultimate redemption of our people and the salvation of the world. With the last verses of his book, Malachi anointed Elijah to be the one to announce the coming of the Messiah.
Through the ages – especially in our darkest years of oppression and exile – Malachi’s vision and the stories it spawned sustained us. One day God would send an anointed messenger, a messiah, to set all that was wrong with the world, aright!
By the time Jesus lived and died, the Jewish messianic hope consisted of four specific expectations:
- The end of the oppression of the Jews
- A miraculous ingathering to Jerusalem of Jews exiled over the years
- The restoration of a descendant of David on the throne of a united (the country divided shortly after the death of King Solomon into two smaller, weaker countries) Israel
- The inauguration of an endless era of peace and harmony for all humanity
People ask why we Jews do not accept Jesus as our messiah. The answer is that Jesus fulfilled none of the Jewish messianic expectations.
As Reform Judaism emerged at the end of the 19th century, the idea of an individual messiah who would miraculously transform the world gave way to the notion of a messianic era toward which we all should work. Today, the ideal of an eternal era of peace and harmony remains the only significant messianic goal of those that our people envisioned long ago. Day by day, act of compassion by act of compassion, each one of us has the opportunity to help make that ideal a reality.
When the moment comes in our Passover Seder to send the children to open the door for Elijah, let it not just be a moment of mirth when we shake the table and say, “he drank the wine we set out for him.” Rather, let it be a moment in which we teach our children that the Almighty hopes each of us will play a role in repairing our broken world.
Tennis and I go back a long way, ever since I was a little kid, and my Dad first taught me how to play. Make no mistake; I was never a good enough to play the grand slams, but I love the game and owe it so much!
As a sophomore I was the number one player on our East Orange High School tennis team. I posted a 2-13 record that year.
The first of the “2” occurred when the number one player from our cross town rival Clifford Scott, Henry Paillard, was not playing, and I got a win over their not-as-strong number 2, Bob Lawrie.
My second win, though, was huge! We played each of our conference rivals twice. In our first meeting at West Orange, I did not only lose; I received a 6-0, 6-1 drubbing from Jay Saunders. Maybe Jay took me for granted when they came to our courts a couple of weeks later, but I earned a 6-4, 6-4 win. I was so proud!
I was EO’s number one for three years, and in those three years I lost to Kearny’s Cal Trevenen six straight times. In those six matches I won only one set, the first set of the first match we played when we were sophomores.
At Hamilton College I became a better player earning a 50-3 record in three years on the varsity and winning a couple of NCAA, college division, regional tournaments and being the finalist in another.
My breakthrough came freshman year.
In those days freshmen were not allowed to play varsity, and I was the number one player on our freshman team. Who should walk out on the court as my opponent for our opening match against Colgate – at Colgate, no less – but Kearny’s Cal Trevenen! But this time I did something I honestly thought I couldn’t do and grabbed a straight set victory. I defeated Cal again when Colgate came to Hamilton.
I reached out to Cal about two years ago (he is a successful attorney in Montclair, NJ), and though he was very gracious, he really didn’t even remember who I was. I can never forget him, though, for helping teach me one of life’s most important lessons:
Yesterday is gone. It doesn’t matter anymore.
Do the best you can right now, and who knows what good things can happen?