One of the things I immediately noticed upon returning to New York on Friday is how utterly filthy much of the neighborhood is. Seriously--it's disgusting. Melting snow, colored by the oily black grease of car exhaust, oil, and filth; dog crap left to decompose the "natural way" in the last storm's diminishing monuments to winter; and garbage, heaps and heaps of garbage, left on the street as an ongoing statement of the basic neglect that my hometown, Brooklyn, seems to contend with too often.
I don't like it.
Now, bear with me as I make the leap toward some seemingly disjointed statements, which, in my mind, make total sense. (Already therefore suspect.)
Living in New York since 1990, this is the first time in my twenty years here that the city, the state, and the nation have fallen on such difficult economic times. Well into the second year of a terrible economic crisis, this morning's paper reported the alarming statistic that several million people may never in fact return to the work they once knew as work and will be chronically unemployed for the remainder of their careers. Besides the drain on the social safety net and additional strain on varieties of non-governmental social services, there is the human devastation to consider: the loss of dignity and the challenges faced by families, spouses, children and friends in watching others struggle with the basic human need for work. The role of the synagogue in this context will be critical.
And our community continues to thrive and grow, I remain convinced, particularly because our membership is committed broadly to being a beacon of hope and light in a sea of darkness for our city, state and country. When God called to Abraham and Sarah several thousand years ago, demanding that they "be a blessing," it was precisely to represent hope in the darkness. And so it shall be.
But I have to tell you, I was really disheartened to read a couple of stories today. One was the story about the official launch to Governor Patterson's campaign for re-election. Despite dismal poll ratings, a lack of serious fundraising, and no serious political analysis suggesting he has a chance to win, the Governor will run for re-election. He will raise literally millions of dollars and spend it--on what we all know will be a futile effort. And I really have to wonder, why? Why spend the money on what we know won't succeed when there are so many profound needs to fill? The sheer ego of it all really bothers me. Especially when challenges are beginning to arise so that basic needs can be met and budget cuts are already beginning to be keenly felt here in the city and across the state. Now is not the time for the ego to lead but for the soul to understand the suffering that looms for us as a nation.
Why could we not have seen a speech by the Governor that began, "I am not running for re-election but will allocate the several million I have already raised to the following organizations that have withstood terrible cuts to their budget..." That would have been political heroism.
Speaking of a distinct lack of heroism. One of the reasons I still insist on subscribing to the print version of the news is so that I can throw it across the room when I get really mad reading it. That's what I did with Senator Evan Bayh's op-ed today, trying to comprehend the reasons that he gave for retiring from the United States Senate at a critical stage in United States history with critical issues facing the nation. Senator Bayh's reasons for leaving the political pantheon were, if I read it correctly, that government and political process are broken. So he's leaving. Because he doesn't want to fix it.
He's 54! He's got a good twenty-five years of work ahead of him! My mom is 76 and she still trudges off to work when she can--between cancer treatments--precisely because she knows one thing about her life and this world--it's not done being fixed!
Ah, well, see--I told you it would all seem kind of disjointed. Or not.
Because in fact, the key here is that precisely because we can work, we should. It's a privilege. And a responsibility. And sometimes it requires great sacrifice. Which means giving up something of ourselves for a good greater than ourselves.
A governor and a senator disappointed me today. People get elected to solve problems: from campaign finance to health care to war and peace to picking up garbage. Do it or get out. Don't waste our time or money with your silly excuses. Of course, it only strengthens our resolve, re-affirming that the world's fate, the nation's fate, the state and the city's fate, really rests on us.