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When Life gives you a Flat Tire

We have all been there. You have a plan, then life happens. The saying is spot-on: ‘We plan; God laughs.’ How many times has it happened to you? Your day is interrupted by weather or some inconvenience, traffic, a missed appointment, someone cancels. You get re-routed. You get lost. You arrive too late. We have also experienced it on a much larger scale: an unexpected diagnosis, a distressing phone call, a disappointing email. Of course, as a Jewish community, we are not strangers to adversities large and small. Our people have been uprooted, cast out and maligned more times than we could ever enumerate.

My job is not to list the hardships and tragedies we have experienced individually or collectively. I do think that my job is about giving those events shape and perspective. To be a rabbi is to remind us that life is not without meaning and that, even in moments of distress, there are reasons to be hopeful.

Here’s what happened to me this week: I flew down to Florida to visit with KI households that either winter in the Sunshine state or live there full time. It was going to be a chance to connect, catch up, and spend some time together. I made my flight, landed, got my rental car and was on my way to my first stop. I had a good get-together in Palm Beach, ate, schmoozed, then said my goodbyes. I was on my way to my next stop on the west coast of the state.

That’s when it happened: a flat tire. Not slightly flat, but FLAT.

The car didn’t have a spare. I called the rental company, waited two hours, and had a tow truck take me (and the car) back to the airport for a replacement. I got in the new car and, hours after the start of the ordeal, was on my way once more.

I tried to smile through all of it and was (mostly) successful. I tried to remember that there are larger problems in the world and was (mostly) successful. I tried to be thankful that I was healthy and that material objects – like tires – can be replaced.

To be honest, it’s hard not to be frustrated these days. And I’m not talking about flat tires. We watch the vitriol that emerges from our nation’s capital. We balk at the proposed policies of Israel’s new government. We are aghast at the levels of antisemitism that exist in today’s seemingly evolved world, not to mention the racism, the homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia and the list could go on. These are existential problems and they leave us feeling, in the words of the prayer book, ‘lost and sick at heart.’

Then there are the stresses of the everyday that threaten to set us off at any moment: the running around, the bills, the commitments, the anxiety that comes with being a parent in 2023, or just trying to be a conscientious human being in 2023.

How do we keep going? How do we smile through it? Is that even possible? I’m not sure. But I do know where our people have traditionally turned amid troubling times: community, learning and prayer. We have gone to the most fundamental Jewish places: tzedakah, tikkun olam, acts of righteousness that mend the world around us, and bring some healing to our ailing souls too. These are places you can go to as well; they are places that can help you.

We have navigated so much as a people and as people. We will, like the Israelites before us, keep going. As our Friday night liturgy reminds us: ‘There is no way to get from here to there except by joining hands, marching together.’