I have always attempted to be a pragmatist, a realist, if you will. The advantage of being such a realist is that one is rarely truly shocked or surprised by the events of life as they unfold. The highs of life are not really that high and the lows are not really that low. It becomes a matter of perspective, of patience, and above all, a matter of faith.
It is the high expectations that we harbor for our children, our finances, our social acceptance and success that lead to our deepest disappointments. The secret of successful psychological therapists is that they respond only to the realities of their patients and not to their fantasies or psychotic ramblings and conversations.
Yet, we are all aware that fantasies are part of our existence –perhaps even a necessary and positive part of human life. And because of this propensity to avoid true perspective and realistic judgments, it becomes very easy to view life and the world and its events as a glass that is half empty.
If this is true generally regarding world events, it certainly is doubly true regarding Jewish life, Torah and the State of Israel. On my recent trip out of Israel I visited the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada. I found the prevailing mood in Jewish communities that I visited to be slightly depressing. The Jewish world is war weary, concerned and down on its future. The glass, in their view, is truly half empty.
We are all aware that the security issue in Israel is a troubling one. We are also aware that the chances for any sort of fair and meaningful accommodation with the Arabs are quite slim. In our fantasies we all thought that such an accommodation was somehow within reach. Oslo, Wye, Annapolis, Hebron, Lebanese withdrawal, Gaza disengagement, all promised positive results and all have disappointed, to put it mildly.
People today speak of a third intifada, God forbid, and not of a rose garden here in the Middle East. For a few decades after World War II, Jews were convinced that somehow anti-Semitism seemed to finally have been checked. Today we all know better that this was a mere illusion and a wild fantasy. Jews all over the world feel threatened and treat their futures, even in the Western world, as being uncertain and possibly troubled.
So it is not surprising that Jews see their glass as being half empty. Yet in historical perspective the State of Israel is stronger now than it has ever been. And the Jewish societies the world over are more influential and affluent than they have ever been in the history of the Diaspora. We have a lot of problems that impinge upon our serenity. But we are all certainly in a better place and in better condition than the Jewish world was in a century ago.
The Land of Israel was then part of the Ottoman Empire, Eastern European Jewry was ravaged by war, revolution and pogroms, the immigrant generation was struggling to find its way in the United States, and the Great War was just beginning. In that view of history, one can easily say that our glass is now perhaps half full.
The glass in terms of Torah study, religious observance and traditional Jewish lifestyle is subject to alternate assessments. On one hand, we have a very disturbingly high rate of intermarriage throughout the Diaspora. The Conservative movement in the United States is in dire decline and the Reform movement has become the haven of the intermarried. The secular Israeli is still opposed to halacha and representations of Jewish tradition and Torah observance in Israeli public and political life.
Most Jews in the world are not committed to halachic observance of Judaism and most Jewish children still receive a minimal Jewish education, if any at all. So, that glass can certainly be viewed as being half empty.
Yet, in truth, the Jewish world is much more Jewish today than it was a few decades ago. The amount of people involved in regular serious daily Torah study is probably at an all-time high. The number of students in Jewish schools and yeshivot is far greater than it was in the previous centuries. And the recent universal Shabat program attracted one million participants – something completely unimagined and deemed impossible only a half century ago.
So, there is legitimate reason to view that glass of our faith as being half full. It all depends on our perspective and mindset when we look at the Jewish world and its problems and accomplishments.