…And a Happy New Year?
Rabbi Andrew Shaw
Chief Executive, Mizrachi UK
It is that time of year – the ‘best of’ make their appearance. Of course this year we don’t just have the ‘best of 2019’ but the ‘best of the decade’. Best goal, best music, best film etc.
The question is though, what defined this decade? The previous decade was the revolution in the way that we communicate with each other and share things. Facebook (2004), YouTube (2005), Twitter (2006), IPhone (2007) and WhatsApp (2009).
This decade has been more about living with the new technologies, and I am not sure we have done that well. There are many studies in the last few years that have pointed to depression amongst teenagers soaring. There is no question in my mind that the increase is linked to the prevalence of the technologies that were created just a few years ago.
I am old enough to remember the creation of the video recorder in the early 80’s. I remember being amazed by this technology, the fact that I could record TV and watch it later was remarkable but it didn’t radically impact my life, yes I could watch my shows at a different time but apart from that, no discernible difference.
Then came email and the internet in the early 90’s and certainly this transformed the way we communicated and received information. Yet, still our lives in essence were the same, in terms of the way we lived and acted. It was the following decade with the creation of the smartphone that the issues really began.
I gave a sermon as Stanmore at the end of the last decade, this is what I said
“I have been asked to pick an idea or date of the last decade that really made an impression on me and the lessons we can learn from it for the future. To me there are two dates – 12/1/05, 10/9/08. These were the birth of our children, half a decade without, half a decade with, I certainly got more sleep in the 1st half! So that is important for me – but why for all Jews? Not, just my children but children in general, how the last decade has changed them? It worries me. By the end of the next decade Yoni will be almost 15, and Daniel 11 – what will they be? How do you raise children in the 2010’s – with the society around them, with the ability to access all areas? We have no idea yet how different a 10-year-old born in 1990 will be different to a 10-year-old born in 2000. I have been working here now for 10 years, I do see a difference and in 10 more, may God help us!”.
So here we are, the 10 years have passed and I believe my fears about the wider society were realised.
So what can we do about it, for ourselves and our children?
December 31st 1999 was far more exciting than December 31st 2019 will be, not only was it the end of the decade and the century it was the end of the millennium as well! So everyone was geared up for massive celebration.
I was still living in New York, what did Gila and I do that night to celebrate?
Gila lit candles, we went to Shul, had Friday night dinner, sang Zemirot, shared Divrei Torah. Shabbat Kodesh trumped any New Years’ Celebration.
I am sure you know the story of the New York Times on that occasion – but it is worth repeating.
‘On January 1, 2000, the NY Times ran a Millennium edition commemorating the paper’s 100th anniversary. It was a special issue that featured three front pages. One contained the news from January 1, 1900. The second contained the actual news of the day, January 1, 2000. And the third front page, featured projected headlines of January 1, 2100. It included such stories as a welcome to the fifty-first state: Cuba and a debate over the issue of whether robots should be allowed to vote. And so on. And, in addition to the creative articles, there was one extra piece. Down on the bottom of the Year 2100 front page, was the candle lighting time in New York for January 1, 2100. Nobody asked for it. Nobody paid for it. It was just put in by the Times. The production manager of the New York Times – an Irish Catholic – was asked about this curious entry. His answer speaks to the eternity of our people and to the power of Jewish ritual. “We don’t know what will happen in the year 2100. It is impossible to predict the future. But of one thing you can be certain. That in the year 2100 Jewish women will be lighting Shabbat candles.”
Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh and Chanukah – a powerful combination, reflecting community, ritual, eternity and family. We cannot stop the inexorable march of technology, but we can press pause for 25 hours every week and realise the truth of the world, that even though everything has changed – when you sit down with your family with the sanctity of Shabbat around you – you realise nothing has changed.
Tonight we must light our Chanukah candles first, the reason is obviously that we cannot light after we have brought in Shabbat. However, we must also make sure that our Chanukah candles burn long enough to last for half-an-hour after nightfall.
As we enter a new decade, we must also make sure that our Torah and Jewish observances burn on into the next decade, not just on Shabbat, but throughout our lives.
Shabbat Shalom, Chanuka Sameach & Chodesh Tov