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Billy Joel and Elul

Singer Billy Joel recently made headlines at a Madison Square Garden concert by donning a yellow Star of David on his jacket. Recalling the yellow stars that Jews were forced to wear in Europe, the move seems to allude to the recent uptick in anti-Semitic activity in the U.S. In her article, Dr. Yvette Alt Miller spotlights how we can all take a lesson from Joel’s courageous stand to utilize this Elul for change and personal growth:

Billy Joel’s fans got a surprise during the singer’s recent concert in Madison Square Garden. The singer, who is Jewish, took to the stage wearing a black jacket with a yellow Star of David sewn to the front and back. The startling image recalled the yellow star that Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust.

While the singer didn’t comment directly on the reason for the stars, many of his fans took his gesture to be a comment on a recent uptick in anti-Semitism in the US and beyond. (Anti-Semitic hate crimes rose by a third in 2016, according to the ADL, and jumped a further 86% in the first quarter of 2017.) Billy Joel later issued a statement in reaction to all the attention his gesture received, implying that he indeed was opposing anti-Semitism. He issued the famous quote from Edmund Burke, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Billy Joel has spoken about his Jewish identity in the past. He grew up in an non-religious home in Long Island and went to Roman Catholic school, and experienced anti-Semitism as a child. His father's family escaped from Germany, but other relatives perished. Billy Joel's father, Howard, was among the American troops who liberated Dachau in 1945. When Billy Joel was a child a girl asked him if he had horns since he was a Jew. Joel remembers worrying and checking his head for weeks.

With Jews experiencing higher levels of anti-Semitism in the US and around the world, Billy Joel wanted to take a stand and be counted, proudly, as a Jew.

When I was 15 I desperately wanted to assert my own Jewish identity after hearing about a terror attack aimed at Jews in Turkey but I was at a loss of what to do. My family wasn’t especially observant and there didn’t seem to be very much that was overtly Jewish in my life.

Eventually, I donned a Star of David necklace, put on a record of Fiddler on the Roof, and picked up a Jewish-themed novel. My mother, bursting in on me, smiled; “You look a billboard!” she said, alluding to my hyper-Jewish pose. That was just what I wanted at that moment. With my fellow Jews around the world being threatened, I wanted to stand up with pride and shout my Jewishness to the world.

Billy Joel’s dramatic Star of David performance came at a particularly appropriate moment in the Jewish year: the start of the month of Elul, the month before Rosh Hashanah, a time when Jews take stock and make plans to change and improve. Here are four ways to harness the energy of this Elul to stand proud and show our Jewishness to the world, and ourselves.

  1. Make a list of your dreams and goals.

Take some time to think about your goals for the coming year and write them down.

A recent study at Dominican University in California shows that people who wrote down their goals were 42% more likely to achieve them than those who merely thought about their goals. Those who shared their list of goals with a friend were particularly likely to follow through, researchers found.

  1. Deepen your connection to your Jewish community.

Connecting with our wider Jewish community enriches us greatly. For children, researchers have found that exposure to Jewish summer camp and school are the greatest predictors that kids will identify Jewishly and marry Jews. Even visiting Israel on a ten-day Birthright trip has been shown to dramatically boost Jewish identity and the likelihood that participants will marry another Jew. The more Jewish content we bring into our homes and our families, the greater our kids’ Jewish identity will be.

Adults also gain tremendously by immersing themselves in the Jewish community. Consider joining a local Jewish organization, enrolling for a Jewish class, signing up for a Jewish newsletter, subscribing to a Jewish newspaper, magazine or website like Aish.com, or volunteering for a Jewish charity. If you’re already involved in Jewish life, resolve to deepen your connection.

Natan Sharansky once said, “There is no power in the world that can stand against us when we feel a part of our history or our people and part of this historic struggle.” During this month of Elul, consider taking concrete steps to make you and your family feel a part of the Jewish people.

  1. Deepen your connection to the Jewish State.

With Israel increasingly under siege and subject to slander in much of the world, take steps to deepen your connection to the Jewish homeland. Start reading the English editions of Israeli newspapers, visit Israeli news sites, and to help counter lies about Israel, sign up for updates from organizations like Honest Reporting www.honestreporting.com or StandWithUs.

  1. Celebrate Jewish life!

The Jewish calendar provides a constant stream of joyous holidays to celebrate. The weekly obsevance of Shabbat gives a much-needed break to the weekly grind, and the Jewish mitzvah of hachnasat orchim, or inviting guests, ensures that we never need celebrate alone. Consider inviting people over for Shabbat dinner, or sign up for a community meal. Reach out to others to help celebrate the Jewish holidays and every day. Find the joy within Judaism, and share it with others.