Hi, Again You look…familiar

Ah, yes, now I know! I remember you from around ten years ago. Maybe you remember me, too? I was a regular columnist here at Ami from the magazine’s debut in 2010 until the end of 2012. That’s why I recognize you.

Well, I’m back as a commentator here, and I’m hopeful that you’ll come to find my offerings worth reading, even should you occasionally (or even often) disagree with what I write. In fact, I particularly value feedback from (agreeable) disagreers. They make me think, and making people think is always a good thing; indeed, it’s the reason I write.
By way of (re)introduction, I am an alumnus of Yeshivas Ner Yisroel in Baltimore, my hometown, a musmach of Rav Yaakov Yitzchok Ruderman and a talmid of Rav Yaakov Weinberg, zecher tzaddikim livrachah. I served as a mesivta rebbe for 18 years before becoming Agudath Israel of America’s director of public affairs and media liaison in 1994.
I have been writing opinion pieces in both Jewish and general media throughout my adult years, but especially frequently over the past decade or so. Here, as elsewhere, I write as a private individual, not necessarily reflecting any official Agudath Israel position, and what I intend to offer are observations on current events, personal musings and the occasional Torah thought.

As I contemplate my return to these pages, it’s only natural for me to think back to the time when my writing last occupied this space.

It was the year Barack Obama was elected to a second term; when Mohamed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood member, was elected president of Egypt (a rather short-lived appointment, as it turned out); and when Vladimir Putin was elected (or whatever) to the presidency of Russia.

A coronavirus named Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) emerged in Saudi Arabia, eventually infecting all of two people in the US (ah, the good old days).

It was the year a shooter killed 12 people and injured 58 in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. And when another took the lives of 27 children and adults in a Sandy Hook, Connecticut, elementary school.

Hurricane Sandy wrought havoc on Caribbean countries and the US, causing tens of billions of dollars in damage and the deaths of 71 Americans in nine states.

And an attack by Islamist terrorists on two US government facilities in Benghazi, Libya, resulted in the deaths of the US ambassador to Libya and a Foreign Service officer. And, quite plausibly if indirectly, in the defeat of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.
I find myself musing, too, not only about the important events of 2012 but about how much change has taken place since then, in some societal attitudes (no need to get into those muddy waters here) and in technology.

Eight years ago, “zoom” was just a word cartoonists used to convey the sound of a speeding car, and to most of us “tweeting” was something done by little birds, not a president.

“Uber” was just the middle word of the title of the old German nationalist
“Deutschlandlied.” And “kickstarter,” at least for motorcycle buffs like me, was simply a means of getting the engine to turn over on a vintage bike.

What’s more, the only voice giving me travel directions in the car emanated from my wife, and she was sitting next to me, not fastened neatly to the dashboard.

Yes, as a contemporary poet put it, things have changed.

For the better? Or the opposite? Arguments can be mustered for both sides. But in the end, argument is pointless. Much as we might wish we could turn the clock back—whether with regard to social attitudes or technological encroachments—our mission as Jews is to deal with the time we’re in, fortified by our mesorah.

“It is what it is” may be a worthy, if depressing, motto for our crazy era. But “what it is,” in the end, are challenges and opportunities.

May we all be zocheh to overcome the former and to seize the latter.

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