We took for granted our living in an age of enlightenment


Barbara Goldberg Goldman | Special to WJW

For many, this past year (5782) was undeniably a tumultuous one. Too many of what we considered inalienable rights were not just under attack. They were eliminated by those who believe that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness should not be afforded to all Americans.

America continues to be a beacon of freedom and enlightenment for other nations around the world — but for how much longer? As a people, and as Jewish people, we prove time and time again that we are unwaveringly resilient. Will this standing and strength remain a constant?

The high holidays are a time for personal reflection and growth, celebration and repentance. We cannot accomplish this without a great deal of thought and questioning. Our core Jewish values must be defended and protected. Tikkun olam, repairing the world, is among them. We should be asking ourselves during these days of reflection whether we are living up to that value.


For the past several decades, until relatively recently, we in America took for granted our living in an age of enlightenment. We saw and experienced both the Supreme Court and Congress expanding rights and promoting unity. Voting rights and other expansions of democracy — human rights, including public education, marriage equality, access to abortion and healthcare — were presumed permanent fixtures.

We now know we were too complacent. Those rights and others now are under attack. Social media, fake news MAGA and other negative movements and media promote divisiveness, cancel culture and a toxic political environment bringing out the very worst in people instead of appealing to our kinder selves.

Tremendous gains and necessary repairs resulting from inattentiveness and fumbling incompetence between 2016 and 2020 have been made. In just 18 short months, new White House and congressional initiatives will create jobs at home, build stronger supply chains and lower prices for American families. The first-ever White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council (WHELAC) was established to confront longstanding environmental injustices and tackle the climate crisis at home and abroad.

A “pay now or pay more later” attitude no longer exists in the White House. Students with huge school debt will receive some relief and the Inflation Reduction Act will help bring us closer to providing our children and grandchildren with a bright and healthy future, one we can be proud to pass down. Stronger tax compliance measures and drug price savings will have significant, direct impacts on millions of Americans, and the historic bipartisan step for gun violence prevention with the Safer Communities Act ended 28 years of inaction.

In 2019, the COVID pandemic brought Americans to our knees. Unnecessary deaths, hospitalizations and severe illness plagued our nation. Now, we see a significant reduction in deaths and infections due to widespread free testing and vaccines. While there are many other achievements, we are only as good as our last one.
We must continue to move forward. Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) introduced the Respect for Marriage Act, which passed the House in July and now awaits passage in the Senate. The Defense of Marriage Act requires that individuals be considered married if the marriage was valid in the state where it was performed and provides other legal protections. Six years ago, it would have been unthinkable to question this.

The Jewish Democratic Council of America, which I helped create and serve as vice chair, recently noted that elected officials promoting lies and homophobic tropes of pedophilia have even passed notorious “Don’t Say Gay” bills through state legislatures. Therefore, it is more important than ever to stand against discrimination and protect the LGBTQ+ community. But make no mistake: All vulnerable groups are threatened by a resurgence of the semi-fascism that threatens to engulf the entire nation.

Torah repeatedly commands us not to oppress the stranger because we were once strangers in Egypt. We, of all people, should be at the forefront of fighting against oppression of others. This means confronting it on all fronts. We cannot permit government to rob anyone of the right to reproductive healthcare, including contraception and abortion. We cannot let government deny anyone the right to vote, whether by onerous registration, voting requirements or by gerrymandering. We cannot continue to look the other way when weapons of war are allowed on our streets, resulting in hundreds of mass shootings every year. And we must not deprive our students from learning America’s true history, no matter how ugly it might have been.

What kind of a society have we become? Who are we? During the high holiday season, we should ask ourselves these questions and recognize responsibilities for what is happening in this country. We need to live up to our Jewish values and return — that’s what repentance is, return. It is up to us to decide if we will return to an age of enlightenment or if we allow the progress we have made end in 5783. Will we heed the words of our tradition and fight for those who cannot fight for themselves and continue the path toward a better society? This is a decision that lies within each of us. Enlightenment or Obliviousness?

Let us resolve to heed the words of the prophet Amos: “…Let love and justice flow like a mighty stream. Let peace fill the earth as the waters fill the sea.” It starts with us.

It starts now.

Barbara Goldberg Goldman is vice chair of the Jewish Democratic Council of America.

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