A Communal Rosh Hashanah Resolution

well-known greeting used in the days preceding Rosh Hashanah is “Tichleh shannah v’killeloteha, tachel shannah uvirchoteha.” It means, “Bring an end to the year and all its curses, and begin the New Year and all its blessings.”

The words come from a Hebrew poem written in 13th century Spain, but the sentiment
is most applicable to the end of 5774 and our hopes for 5775.

5774 was a difficult year, one we’d rather forget. It opened with the controversial findings of the Pew Report, “A Portrait of American Jews,” in early October and the U.S.-sponsored negotiations between Israel and Palestinians that took many from cautious hope to despair. Next came the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens and the calls for and acts of revenge for those murders. The growth of anti-Semitism around the globe has everyone on edge.

Hamas missiles fell on Israeli towns while Jews in our own communities were divided about Israel and Zionism. “Operation Protective Edge” and the death and destruction in its wake have left us with much uncertainty. Bring an end to the year and all its curses, indeed!

The High Holidays traditionally mark a period of 10 days during which we engage in heshbon hanefesh (deep introspection), mostly as individuals. But soul-searching is something that is incumbent upon us as a community as well. Could we have done anything to make the past year a better one? Can we do anything to make a difference in the year ahead?

The Jewish world faces many challenges that can have an impact on both Jewish life and Jewish lives (as well as the lives of others). Too often our community is unable to engage in meaningful conversation about perilous issues. The Jewish world has become averse to internal conflict, often preferring the anodyne voices of the echo chamber. One must ask: if we cannot talk among our own people, how can we ever expect to come to a peaceful resolution with others?

We should consider a communal Rosh Hashanah resolution: to learn to listen to those with whom we may disagree with open minds and hearts, and to learn to disagree agreeably.

This originally appeared in the Jewish Journal on September 25, 2014.

The Gift of Elul

Elul, the lunar month that precedes Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, marks a distinctive time in the Jewish calendar. By tradition, we begin the monthlong process of reflection and introspection that will culminate in the High Holy Days. We sound the shofar almost daily to awaken our souls and remind us of the special tasks that lie ahead. Much as we clean our earthly homes to prepare for Passover, we use this month to prepare our spiritual homes to welcome a new year.

We take stock of our relationships with ourselves, with others and with God, with the goal of making better choices to make the world a better place. It is a private, internal and personal task.

The process of looking inward is always challenging, but this year it is especially so. External events demand our attention. With Israel at risk and global anti-Semitism surging, self-reflection may feel self-indulgent. Too much danger looms, and too many need our support, to sit idly thinking about ourselves.

And yet, heeding the call of the shofar may be exactly what we need. Hearing the sound is meant to encourage us to search our souls and acknowledge our weaknesses, with the goal of becoming more compassionate towards each other and more reverent towards God. It is a time to celebrate life, an opportunity to resensitize ourselves and to renew our commitments. We are reminded that our individual choices matter and that every day we are given the opportunity to choose anew.

These times of large-scale political upheaval can make us feel frustrated and hopeless about our ability to improve the world. After all, others, much more politically powerful than us, are the decisionmakers. The month of Elul reminds us that each individual matters, that “tikkun olam” (repairing the world) depends on each of us doing our best. Quiet self-assessment and reflection may be a great place to start.

This originally appeared in the Jewish Journal on August 28, 2014.