Facing the Next Decade

Tomorrow evening is New Year’s Eve – well, the secular one anyway – and I find it hard to believe that on it we will be welcoming in the second decade of the 21st century.

It seems like only yesterday that we were living in anticipation and dread of Y2K; both the advent of the 21st century and the prophesied melt down of everything computer in the world.  Ironically, as we were filled with dread of the potential demise of our cyber-centered universe, I could not help be ponder how liberating that could be.  For I am one of those folks who is convinced that while technology has contributed much to our lives, even more has it enslaved us.  I remember when the hype was that the technological revolution would liberate us; provide us with more free time and leisure.  Well, tell that to the person who each morning opens their email to be greeted by 100 or more messages, some easily deletable but most expecting an instantaneous response – don’t think!  just write!  And then, of course, there are our cell phones.  When I was growing up – in the days of rotary dial corded phones – we did not even have answering machines, nevertheless cell phone.  That is, except for Dick Tracy with his two-way wrist radio – “Calling Dick Tracy!  Calling Dick Tracy!”  If someone called and you were not home, they would just have to call back later, or not.  Now they can call you anywhere, anytime.  “Hello?  Where are you?  You sound strange.”  “Maybe that is because I am in Phoenix, in a restaurant, in the bathroom!”  No escape.  We are prisoners.  And you wonder why in the secret recesses of my heart I carried the smallest hope that all that Y2K jabber was more than mere hype?

It seems like only yesterday we welcomed the 2000’s.  I remember so very well being at a house party with my children.  As midnight was approaching, we all left the house and walked to a nearby park which provided an excellent vantage point for the public fireworks which ushered in the new century.  And they were magnificent.  As I stood there, in the midwestern winter cold, with the display lighting up the night sky, I could not help but gaze upon my children and wonder whether or not they appreciated the import of the moment.  For here we were, parents and children together, celebrating a moment which none of us would ever live to see again; the start of a new century.  That would be the privilege of my grandchildren and great grandchildren; their children and grandchildren.  And I cannot even begin to attempt to calculate how many generations it will be before parents and children can once again stand together to welcome a new milennia.

How time has flown!  For we turn around and we are already entering yet another decade.  How I pray that we make far better use of our time in this coming decade than we did in the last.

O how we approached the 21st century with such hopes and dreams!  What promise it held for us!  The media was filled with reports featuring the various visions of the future held by both people of note and the man or woman on the street, and they all were positive.  Yet when I think back on these past 10 years, it pains me to consider how we have failed to live up to those visions, those promises, those hopes.  It pains me to consider how dark and dismal a decade was this first decade of this new century.  A bloody one, indeed, with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with genocide in Darfur, with not one but four separate grisly conflicts between the Israelis and their adversaries, the Palestinians and Hezbollah – the Second Intifada, the invasion of the West Bank, the Lebanon War, and the Gaza War.  There has been brutal terrorism galore, the most agonizing incident of which, at least of us Americans, was 9-11.  Of course, that was not the only one.  Trains have been blown up, suicide bomber have struck both  inside and outside of Israel, missile and mortar attacks on civilian settlements in southern Israel, Mumbai.  The list is too long and too painful to recount in its entirety.

Nor was armed conflict this decade’s only ill.  Hunger remains a rampant disease afflicting our planet.  The number of its victims continues to grow rather than diminish.  As I write these words, our economy – our global economy – has seriously faltered.  Unemployment in our own great country is disgracefully high.  My wife was without a full time job for 13 months.  I thank God she finally found one she likes.  Far too many of her fellow Americans have not been nearly as fortunate.  As if these things were not bad enough, blind hatred has once again reared its ugly head in our land.  Hate groups are on the rise, spreading their bile about people of color, undocumented immigrants, and of course, Jews.  Even worse – yes, even worse – there are far too many who mask their prejudice in the sanctimonious cloak of religion.  These people profess to adhere to a faith doctrine of love while at the same time they take every opportunity to attack and degrade their fellow human beings simply because they do not share their sexual orientation.  They solemnly proclaim that they stand four square against any form of discrimination but that they also stand four square against any attempt to grant equal rights to those with a same sex orientation.  They wave their bibles as if those sacred texts were their personal license to persecute others.

One could even wonder whether or not God was intent upon crushing the new century’s promise of hope.  Tsunami, Katrina, Global Warming.  Enough said.

But ten years does not a century make.  We still have another ninety with which to work.  We still can make the 21st century the greatest century for humankind.  But whether or not that comes to fruition is entirely within our own hands.  It is up to us to decide to make this the century of peace rather than of war; of prosperity rather than of poverty; of dignity rather than of degradation; of hope rather than of heartache.

We may have squandered the first decade but if we so choose, the dream can begin now.  May this second decade usher in all the good we have longed for in this new century.

Happy New Year, one and all!

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5 Comments on “Facing the Next Decade”

  1. Anne-Marie Hislop Says:

    I want so much to counter your sad commentary with a ‘but there were positives,too’ contribution. While I can come up with some (the election of our first minority president), I too feel more of the weight of the last 10 years on a community/society/world level (though for many of us, on an individual level the decade was probably, at worst, a more mixed bag).

    Hopefully, this decade will bring some re-balancing (and maybe some backlash) in terms of the addiction to electronics and its take-over of our lives. One thing that saddens and stresses me is the increasing tendency to make the private public, to spew everything and anything to 500+ of ones facebook ‘friends,’ and/or to air one’s dirty laundry, parenting failures, or hot-tub, scantily-clad sexual behavior on TV in the name of becoming a ‘reality TV star.’ The inherent lack of boundaries in such behavior cannot be good for children and families. So-called ‘family values’ folks ought to be decrying this trend in our society instead of going after the two gay guys down the street who are minding their own business, mowing the lawn, and paying their taxes on time.

    • ravkarp Says:

      You are, of course, correct that I could have / should have paid some more attention to the positives of the decade – such as the election of our first minority President. However, even as I think of that positive – and you know that I was an outspoken support of Candidate Obama – I fear that that too has devolved into an increasingly disturbing negative. In my opinion, President Obama has not proven himself to be the same person as Candidate Obama.

      I am not just referring to the terrible state of the economy. In fact, I do not credit him at all for our current economic ills. I fear that not only was this disaster a legacy of the abuses of the Bush administration but it may also some day be proven to be a conscious plot by the “big money” people aimed at undermining the Obama presidency and the Democratic majority in Congress. When you have billions of dollars to your name, the loss of millions still will not severely impact your personal quality of life. But through it you can indeed take control of the entire nation. I know that sounds like a weird conspiracy theory, but the timing of the events is just too coincidental.

      The economy aside, President Obama has disappointed me in other areas. Let us take a look at health care reform. Here, too, I have been a big booster. It is a scandal that in a country as wealthy and as advantaged as ours, there are so many people without access to proper health care. But what has happened? Obama’s much flaunted health care reform has devolved into merely insurance reform. Yet the ills of the health care system are far more complex than just the ills of the insurance industry. We are facing here a multi-headed monster, and the insurance companies are but one of those heads. There is also the avaricious pharmaceutical firms. The cost of medications is simply out of control. There is something wrong when Americans can purchase the exact same drugs for their pets at prices considerably lower than they can for themselves. How embarrassing for our country that so many of our people turn to our neighbor to the north for affordable medications. It is not even like Canada is a third world country, with widespread poverty, and in which absolutely everything is cheaper. They are a nation so similar to our own, EXCEPT that they provide medications at far more reasonable prices. Then there are the physicians. We hear our doctors continually bewailing their sorry state. They tell us that between the cost of malpractice insurance and the level of insurance reimbursements they can no longer afford to remain in practice. Yet we watch them as the build for themselves new expensive private offices/clinics, as they continue to live in the most expensive neighborhoods of our communities, drive luxury cars, and take the types of foreign vacations that are no longer affordable to the vast majority of Americans. There is a serious disconnect here. Then there is their practices themselves. In all too many of them, the vast majority of the work of patient care is handled by nurses. The doctors pop in at the last moment, spend a handful of minutes with their patients, and charge their lion’s share fee. Then, if you require some sort of surgical procedure, they will take whatever your insurance carrier will give them and charge you a hefty additional fee on top of that. My medical insurance runs $20,000.00 per year. Yet, in spite of that expensive coverage, last year I had a doctor’s office tell me that for a certain procedure I would need to add an additional $700.00 to their insurance reimbursement. How many can afford such a co-pay? I cannot, and I still have not had that procedure. Now not all of the doctors are like that. I am fortunate that my primary care physician is still one of those doctors who is far more patient centered than capitalistic. I value him greatly for he is a precious and rare commodity in today’s health care environment. Then there are the hospitals. Considering what they charge for everything they offer, it is inconceivable that they claim to run at a deficit. Last Summer, while I was away, my wife broke her foot. She was taken to the emergency room of a local hospital – I will not say which one – where she was summarily misdiagnosed. They claimed that she had sprained her ankle. Immediately they handed her an ankle brace. When she protested on two counts – 1: That it was not her ankle which hurt, and 2: That she already owned such an ankle brace and would not need another – they told her that their diagnosis stands and that since they have already removed the brace from its packaging it is now hers, like it or lump it. Of course that meant the cost of the brace was hers as well. They did tell her that she could donate it to the needy. How generous of them! When she contacted the hospital’s “Patient Advocate” – a misnomer if ever there was one – she soon discovered that the “Patient Advocate” was in truth the “Hospital Advocate”, working diligently to shake off any and all responsibilities for misconduct on the part of the hospital. The bottom line here is that in the dike of health care, there are many holes. In addressing the ills of the insurance industry, our modern day little Dutch boy, President Obama, has stuck his finger in but one of them. The others continue to leak as before.

      Then, of course, there is a subject near and dear to my heart – the Middle East. Here, again, there is a wide discrepancy between Candidate Obama and President Obama. Candidate Obama spoke of his commitment to forging a peace in that region based upon serious mutual compromise. This was something I could respect. However, President Obama has not demonstrated himself to be at all mutual in his expectations of concessions. He has demanded a great deal of the Israelis and nothing whatsoever of the Palestinians or of the Arab world in general. In fact, the demands he has placed upon Israel have just driven the Palestinians to become more intransigent. Rather than bringing the two sides together, he has driven them further apart. Then, of course, there were all his promises about withdrawing from Iraq. Yet, a year after he took the oath of office, we are no closer to being out of that country. Then, there is Iran. He has pleaded with them and tried to make nicey-nice, but how has the Iranian leadership responded? By promising to increase their nuclear efforts. As a result, Iran is a greater threat now to Middle East and world security than it has ever been before. And this is the man that accepted the Nobel Peace Prize! For what? For speeches which have had no positive actions and results attached to them? Speaking of the Nobel Prize, I cannot begin to describe how disappointed I was with Obama for accepting the nomination. He must be the first person to ever receive the award for the promises he has made rather than for the deeds he has accomplished. That he should have accepted it gives disturbing testimony to an ego run amok. A more humble person would have said that he appreciates the confidence invested in him but let him first truly accomplish the works of peace of which he has so eloquently spoken, and only then would he consider accepting such an honor.

      Now remember, I say this as a person who spoke out on behalf of Candidate Obama when he was under attack in the Jewish community, and as someone who walked the streets, going house to house, canvasing for him. Imagine how his opponents must feel.

      So I am sorry to say, though the election of the first person of color as President of the United States may have been a positive aspect of the first decade of the 21st Century, what has followed upon that election has only contributed to the gloom of the decade.

      In spite of it all, Ann-Marie, have a Happy New Year!

      • Anne-Marie Hislop Says:

        I too had hoped for more in healthcare, Henry, but do not blame Mr. Obama for how little we will get. The manipulation and bargaining on capitol hill made it nearl impossible to get anything done at all. Although I would like to see more, I am always of a mind to believe that something is better than nothing – it is at least a start.

  2. Rabbi Michael Samuel Says:

    Dear Rabbi Henry and Cantor Gail,

    I wish both of you a wonderful sweet new year; a year of health, success, and personal accomplishment–for you, your loved ones and for our faith community.

    Michael Samuel


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