All of us are guilty of romanticizing our past to various degrees. On the surface, it may seem silly to do so. Why should we attribute more hope to our past than our future? Surely, we set ourselves on a downward slope. Perhaps when our present is dark and our future is obscure, we believe a glimpse of light can shine through only in our yesterday. In the words of John Lennon: “Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away…”
What if there were a place like that — some sort of a yesterday island? Would you want to live there? In fact, there is such a place. I first learned about Yesterday Island when I was researching a fantasy road trip from New York to Jerusalem. The only obstacle (ignoring all geopolitical elements) would be crossing the Bering Strait between Alaska and Chukotka, Russia. That part is passable only by way of a two-hour boat ride or possibly overland when the strait is frozen.
In the middle of the narrow strait, nearly kissing, are two small islands — Big Diomede on the Russian side, and Little Diomede on the American side. Since the International Date Line crosses in the middle, and although they are only 2.4 miles apart, there is a 20-hour time difference between them. They are often called Tomorrow Island and Yesterday Island. As in life, sometimes the difference between tomorrow and yesterday is a world apart, and the difference a day makes is between ancient history and a distant future. At times, progress propels us forward in retrograde motions that blur tomorrow and yesterday.
Significant progress in the world often happens because of technology — from symbols to alphabet writing, scrolls to codex, printing press to telecommunication, and now Zoom. Global communication accelerates it all. These past few weeks gave us a taste of that. While we were in the midst of events promulgated out of blunt racism, which keeps taking the entire global community back to yesterday, America sent a rocket into tomorrow’s space. Two steps forward, one step back. Sometimes in history, progress happens directly from yesterday to tomorrow. While the U.S. Supreme Court reached back to yesterday to rule against discrimination of the LGBTQ community, a situation many argued was already settled law, the court also gave a hopeful future to many immigrants who dared to “Dream.”
Perhaps this all means we are getting closer and closer to God. The tetragrammaton — the Hebrew name of God transliterated in the four letters YHWH, we articulate as Adonai,—is actually an acronym for Was, Is, and Will Be. What seems to be very far, as Yesterday Island, may not be that distant after all.
I wish Tifereth Israel’s new Board of Directors great success, with the hope that together we will learn to read correctly the signs of the time.
May we have a blessed month,
—Rabbi Gadi Capela