Rabbi’s Review – January 2019

Obligation to History

Rabbi Douglas Kohn


Wow! January 2019. It is the last year of the young century’s second decade, as we are still commencing the earliest epoch of the third millennium of the Common Era. What a time to be alive!

In earlier ages at a time such as this, in the year 19 or 1019, the Roman empire was unsettled, and later the Roman Catholic Church was, too, in 1019, with the Crusades just around the corner. Yet, in the year 19, we of the Jewish people were about 2000 years old, entering a fateful century which saw the Temple burned, and with the crusades, we were about to enter our fourth millennium, albeit with bloodshed, again. But… 2019…

This year, Temple Beth El is marching ever nearer to our century mark. This is our 97th year as, literally, the anchor of the South Bay Jewish community. How ancient we might feel… until we ponder the horizons of our people’s history, or, until we look at how new and fresh today’s TBE feels, as well.

History is linear, but the experience of history is contextual. We feel it relative to most present horizon. And, against that horizon, history also makes its demands upon us. Our task is not to replicate the world which was, nor simply to preserve that which is, but to be responsible to that which is not yet, which, in my late teacher, Rabbi David Hartman’s words, has a claim on us.

Responding to that claim is what motivates me as a rabbi and as a Jew. I could argue, legitimately, that the millennia of Jewish history animate that claim. Similarly, I could contend that the pressures of serving a vital and vibrant Jewish community each and every day rouses both me and that claim.

Yet, far more, it is the obligation to the history which has not yet been penned which has the heaviest weight – on me, I dare say, and on all of us. What will the next chronicler record about how we addressed our stewardship of this people, and of this nigh century-year-old synagogue? That is the question which claims our attentions, as we begin to write 2019 on our calendars and on our checkbooks.

Yes, we are approaching a precious century mark… It is the newest day of another epoch. Let’s respond to it with fervor!

Rabbi Douglas Kohn