Between the waves of grief following the anti-Semitic murders in Pittsburg and the rising tide of anxiety as we watch the attack on southern Israel from our diaspora homes, it would be easy to succumb to the undertow of negativity—to find ourselves awash in anger, fear, heartbreak, or hopelessness. But darkness is not the whole story; it never is. I don’t mean to suggest that what happened in Pittsburg isn’t our American Jewish nightmare, or that we should not fear for the safety of our loved ones in Eretz Israel. Indeed, Jews across the nation have gathered in synagogue meetings to discuss “hardening” the security of our places of worship, and many are reaching for their phones to check on friends and family in cities including Ashkelon and Sderot. Washington’s Jewish community is no different. We assemble to discuss the security budgets of our sanctuaries, exchange FaceTime messages with loved ones sleeping in bomb shelters. Yet even among these moments, there are reasons for optimism.
As a result of the mid-term elections, the size of the Jewish caucus is growing in both the nation’s capital and in our own. The 116th U.S. Congress will include 36 Jewish legislators: eight in the Senate (an increase of one) and 28 in the House (an increase of five). The increase of six Jewish legislators in the U.S. Congress represents a 20 percent increase in this class over the 115th. Washington voters elected two additional Jewish legislators to serve during our state’s upcoming legislative session, growing the Jewish caucus in Olympia from 9 to 11.
Washington voters also just elected the first Jewish woman to represent our state in the U.S. Congress. Last week, Dr. Kim Schrier, now Congresswoman-elect from Washington’s 8th Congressional district, defeated opponent Dino Rossi by almost six points, despite being targeted with an anti-Semitic attack ad. Schrier is not the first Jewish member of Congress from our state: John Miller represented Washington’s 1st Congressional district from 1985 to 1993. Nevertheless, her election is reason to celebrate for Washington’s Jewish community.
Washington’s new State Senate majority leader is also Jewish. State Democrats tapped Andy Billig of Spokane to replace retiring Senate Majority Leader Sharon Nelson of Maury Island. Billig represents Spokane’s 3rd Legislative District and was elected to the state senate in 2012. Like Shrier’s victory, Billig’s success is noteworthy. His ascension to State Senate majority leader is a reminder to those of us in the tri-county Puget Sound region that Washington’s Jewish community reaches beyond our friends and neighbors in our immediate backyard.
It has been difficult few weeks to be Jewish, whether in American or in Israel. But it is important to acknowledge the light when we see it, even, or perhaps especially, in times of darkness. As I have reflected on the spectrum of recent events, I take comfort in one of my favorite passages from God is a Verb by a Rabbi David Cooper. He writes:
When the sun reaches its lowest ebb, the time in which the energy of darkness is strongest, accusing angels have their greatest power. The Kabbalist says that this point is the darkest of the night, the moment when restriction and judgment are at their full power. If we were abandoned in the mystical midnight of creation, we would disappear. We could not survive the judgment. Thus, in the poetic language of Kabbalah, at precisely this instant, God “enters” the celestial Garden of Eden. That is to say, at the moment when the physical universe is in greatest jeopardy, the darkest moment of the day, the force of expansion materializes and revitalizes the center of creation. Of course, Jewish mystics understand that midnight in one part of the world is different than in other parts. They know that God is, so to speak, continuously entering the garden… [T]he lovingkindness of the Divine brings Its light to our midnight, exactly when we need it for survival. When we become objective… we realize that it is always midnight somewhere. Thus, God is perpetually entering the garden, forever bringing Its light to everybody.
Let us not lose sight of hope, and in pursuit of hope, let us celebrate our victories. There is light.
Advocacy Committee Chair, Seattle Hadassah