By David Cohen
As Rosh Hashanah comes closer in the Jewish world, individuals and organizations often use this time of year to “take stock” and see how their past year has been – and reflect on some new directions they would like to take in the months ahead.
And because we also harken back to the time of Creation – the first Rosh Hashanah – we also celebrate all that life has to offer in any new season. Creation begets an opportunity for renewal and rejuvenation, and beginnings demand that we reflect on both the past and the future. That is why our celebration is so intimately connected to a deep introspection that culminates with Yom Kippur.
In many ways, the work of building community reflects this ongoing dual focus on celebrating what we are while always striving to be better. In many ways, it is what we as Jews are supposed to spend the entire fifty-two weeks of the year doing – celebrating all that we are and all that we have become. Whether this is a focus on ourselves, our families, our schools, our place in American society, our relationship to Israel - each gives us reasons to celebrate and also to be deeply pensive. With a realization that what is good in life is often so precious for us because we would never want to lose it, we can move forward with deep appreciation and ongoing renewal.
This necessary duality often seems lost in our current times. There are too many zero-sum games. This is good – or this is bad. But Judaism was never meant to be a two-dimensional tradition. It is all nuance, matters of degrees, and debate. We need only look at the Hebrew concept of transgression, commonly expressed in the western world as “sin.” Yes, this is the time of year when we make amends and apologize. But what we are really doing is promising ourselves, our friends, and the divine spirit that we will try to do better. That we “must” do better if we want this to be the world, we all hope it will be. The concept in Judaism actually comes from archery. If you transgress you have “missed the mark.” You have missed the bullseye. The question is, were you anywhere near the center at all? How close were you? What do you need to do to get just a little closer this year? Definitely not a zero-sum game, but a constant effort to realize how close we were and an acknowledgment that we can always do better.
Our efforts in Harrisburg around our move to the Grass Campus strike me as an effort to be a part of this wonderful process. We have honored our past by finding a way to bring the community together toward creating a new goal, a new direction, and a new energy. You will hear me echo this theme in the months and years ahead – but this also seems an opportune time to highlight how this approach can help us in other ways.
When grappling with the issues of our time like antisemitism, the democratic nature of Israel and the United States, the rise in hate and violence in our society writ large – maybe we can take stock in the coming weeks to make some sense out of it all. Maybe we can see those we disagree with as “missing the mark” instead of being despicable? As we look at society’s problems, maybe we can look at root causes, common patterns, patterns from History that tend to repeat themselves and try to avoid those same mistakes? When we try to make sense of the current politics of Israel, maybe we can add to the conversation by helping those who support compromise and dialogue rather than those who stoke the flames of fear? And at the end of the day, maybe we can cut everyone in our sphere some slack – by realizing how much we all try to hit the mark with all that we do.
As a community, these are the efforts we can expend energy on that could really make a difference. Whether as part of your synagogue, the agency or agencies you connect to, or in any part of your secular life, these are all ways that being or doing Jewish can enrich us all. In whichever way you choose, I hope you will join our community in the year ahead as we celebrate, debate, reflect, learn, play, and find ways to create, renew, and improve ourselves, our community, and our world.
L'Shanah Tovah U’metukah