A new year has arrived and with it much possibility. I resist making predictions for 2014 -- I'll leave that kind of wizardry to television commentators -- but people tend to be skeptical and even cynical about the future. Why is it easier to imagine 100 ways something can go wrong? The new year offers us an opportunity to pray that God will strengthen our resolve to believe that life does and will get better for us.
I am praying that 2014 enables our nation to achieve its noble and worthy aspirations. Yet, a more fundamental prayer -- in addition to that of a good economy, adequate health care and stopping the spread of nuclear and chemical weapons -- is for us all to be safe.
In our schools, for example, we have seen the ravages of gun violence. We talk about providing psychologically safe environments for students, but violence and bullying continue. Do we not deserve a country where children feel safe in their schools? Arming and training teachers to discharge weapons is not the answer to this prayer.
Our houses of worship also should be safe places where we can educate and build community. We had several instances last year of gunmen entering houses of worship. Taking the proper precautions to protect our institutions of worship without turning them into armed camps is also important for the well being of our country.
Our homes must be safe places for children. How can we learn to resolve conflicts before parents burst into violent attacks on spouses and children? When does this country learn that physical abuse in the home is unacceptable? When do we take seriously the biblical verse that "God created man in his own image?" State governments have investigative and law enforcement agencies that are supposed to protect people from domestic abuse, but until this nation develops a spiritual consensus and a taboo against beating spouses, children and the elders who live with us, America will not be safe.
There are many immigrants in this country, some of whom are legal and others who are not. Those who are not legal still work hard and take the most menial jobs that few citizens would ever accept. Do they have a right to feel safe living in this country? Will there be an immigration bill that will establish a pathway to citizenship and remove the fear that at any moment someone can be taken away from his or her family and deported?
Being safe is important in terms of America's place in the world. We witness the savagery of religious wars and dictatorships in places like Syria and Central Africa. The United States is engaged in crucial negotiations with Iran, which is close to having nuclear weapon capability that will, if not checked, unleash a nuclear arms race. I am praying the current administration will act wisely and that our president and secretary of state will not reach an agreement with Iran that will backfire. How can we forget former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who in 1938 announced to the British people and the world that an agreement had been made with Adolph Hitler promising no more war in Europe? He said to cheering crowds, "I believe it is peace for our time ... and now I recommend you to go home and sleep quietly in your beds." We know that a peaceful night's rest was short-lived for Britain and the world.
I am hoping the message of the biblical prophets intoned to ancient Israel still resonates today, which is to rebuild our spiritual infrastructure, to take care of our own including the orphan, the widow and others who need our help. Have we forgotten the biblical injunction to "remember the stranger for you were strangers in the land of Egypt?"
We need religion and clergy, in particular, to be beacons of light and demonstrate compassion and moral clarity that faith in God must lead to faith in humanity. Only then will we start to feel an enduring safety for our families and ourselves. I know I have not covered every issue that deserves our attention, but the main point is that a nation cannot fulfill its potential with a society in which fear pervades.
May 2014 usher in a year of safety for us all and remind us to be vigilant but not act as vigilantes in pursuing justice. May our children receive the blessings of their childhoods and not the barricades and barbed wire in their schools. Let the sermons emanating from our houses of worship teach us that world peace starts by each person finding peace inside themselves.
Enjoy a happy and safe new year.
Columnist Rabbi Brad L. Bloom is the rabbi at Congregation Beth Yam on Hilton Head Island. He can be reached at 843-689-2178. Read his blog at www.fusion613.blogspot.com and follow him at twitter.com/rabbibloom.