This December 16 occurs the evening before Shabbat. The significance is that December 17 is my birthday. The unhappy irony is that during this time I am recovering from COVID, and however I have improved I cannot go to shul tomorrow. However, I can contemplate the meaning of the Holiday which will begin on Sunday evening: Chanukkah. True, Channukah is not really a big Holiday on the calendar the way Christmas is for Christians. It is if anything considered “assimilationist” to have a Chanukkah bush. Yet we are each supposed to light a Chanukkiah (the menorah’s correct name in Israel) each night and we have special songs to sing, and some of us include gifts in the festivities. I always make it a point to make latkes with sour cream. Ideally, the latkes go with jelly doughnuts and there is carbonated grape or apple juice to go with it.
Yet I find myself wondering the “big questions.” At one time Jews accepted the premise that a messiah would eventually come–there is no exact connection of this to Chanukkah, but still. Most of us aren’t waiting anymore; you almost have to be Orthodox to be that “extreme” in your faith. Yet in reading The Chosen by Chaim Potok, Michael’s father speaks of the idea that the non-Orthodox people of his period had that though there my not be a literal messiah there might still be an “end of history” when finally good would overcome evil… when the horrors of the Holocaust were revealed to the American public, Michael’s father puts his full energy into bringing about the State of Israel. I have often wondered if a person needs to be Orthodoxy to believe in this much: God’s place in History; the role of human beings in bringing about the Messianic Age; and the necessity of the Jewish state for all Jews until the end of times.
Yet at times I wonder about an Orthodox teaching that when everybody is good or everybody is bad, at one of those times the messiah will come. Why? Because Evil at the moment seems to have the upper hand. Looking at our politics in America, we notice that neither Republican nor Democratic Parties appear to satisfy a deep longing on the public’s part for goodness, stability, and faith in traditional values. Donald Trump is a kind of false messiah with his willingness to throw a match in the powder keg of bitter feelings on the right. Yet some of the issues that are being brought up on the left–I privately deplore the 1619 Project without wanting to be called racist–seem unlikely to win friends or influence people outside of those who already believe in them, too. I find in my politics I am “purple.” And Purple is not always a great place to be. It reminds me of an agnostic who wrote of the ancient Romans in the time of the last Roman pagans and early Christians, “I am neither above or beyond the fray” but often find given a specific issue that my feelings may be mixed or non-existent. I hope this does not give the impression of cowardly spinelessness or chameleon lack of character.
Anyway, I find that today we all seem to live in “the swamp.” I know that is a term Trump made popular only to embrace swampiness with all the fiber of his being. Yet I really imagine that corruption, especially at the top, makes this America’s second “Gilded Age”; I have my doubts about the morality of billionaires and that includes “liberal” billionaires.
That being said, I hope till my dying day I write primarily about the Middle and Lower Classes, the people I have actually known or at least known about all my life. I now know one of the great writing mistakes of my childhood was to write about the East Coast. I had never lived on the East Coast and knew nothing real about places like New York City. I needed to learn what Twain knew: a great writer can make Hannibal, Missouri sing as much as New York or London or Paris. So it is that though I did write Brazil and may try to write about that country again, I think my focus for my writing as of–well, not too long ago–will be primarily in the Midwest and South, with the largest cities being Kansas City, Chicago, and… with lots of work… New Orleans. New Orleans is a long shot, but perhaps someday I shall write a book set there… I hope to prove, however, that cities like Concordia and Emporia and smaller are just as important to humanity.