I want to thank those who provided relief funds for both Hurricane Dorian victims and for the Adas Israel synagogue in Duluth, Minnesota. The response was very heartwarming, including one community member sharing with me that she was from Duluth and how much she appreciated our raising funds to help the synagogue.
Two days ago, we commemorated the 18th anniversary of 9/11. I believe most of us remember where we were when we heard the news (I was living on the east coast and was at work while many people here were just waking up to the tragic news). But it is also odd to realize that today’s high school students and youth were not alive when this happened. I must admit it pains me every time I watch old TV episodes of Law & Order and the Twin Towers are on the screen. As time moves forward, as with anything, the question remains whether future generations will remember.
Each month, the Federation professional team learns with one of our community rabbis. This week, a new rabbi to town (a 36-year veteran educator/administrator in the public school system who became a rabbi in his encore career) led us in a beautiful discussion and shared wonderful texts (many included here) about the Hebrew month of Elul, reflections on 9/11, and the importance to always remember (zachor).
Elul is the sixth month of the Jewish year, which we are currently in and immediately precedes Rosh Hashanah. The Hebrew letters spelling Elul form an acronym for the words in the verse Ani ledodi vedodi li -- “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” (Song of Songs 6:3). Sages take this verse to describe the particularly loving and close relationship between God and the Jewish people. Elul, then, is our time to re-establish this closeness so that we can approach the Yamim Noraim, or Days of Awe, in trusting acceptance of God’s judgment. We approach this time of year not out of fear, but out of love.
We must take the opportunity to reflect on the past year, look carefully at ourselves, re-evaluate and reexamine who and where we are in our lives, and look forward to the ways in which next year can be different. It is also a time to seek to heal relationships, to offer overdue apologies, and to repair the damage we have caused to others.
During the month of Elul, we seek out those we have unintentionally hurt or had a difficult encounter or a breakdown in relationship to begin the process of seeking m’ḥila (forgiveness). There is a story about Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev, a Hasidic rebbe of the late 18th century. Before going to bed each night, he would make a list of all that he had done wrong. He would recite the list over and over until regret and grief overcame him. The flow of his tears would be so great that the paper would be wiped clean of his transgressions. The teaching here is not that we need to attain perfection, but rather that we need to acknowledge our very real human imperfections and fragility before we can successfully move into the New Year.
This is a conscious act that requires us to recognize our own errors, acknowledge our own faults, and step forward and speak with those we may have been unkind to and ask for forgiveness. This is what the High Holy Days are about.
Yosef Haim Yerushalmi wrote a well-known book, Zachor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory. The premise is that memory is one of our most frail and unstable capacities. Yerushalmi wrote that the act of recording historical events, historiography, is not the primary form of transmission through which the collective memory of the Jewish people has been the focus or awakened. Yerushalmi says it is not just the Jews who are impacted by the following common understanding: “…that what is remembered is not always recorded and, alas for the historian, that much of what has been recorded is not necessarily remembered.”
Let us always remember how our country was attacked on September 11, 2001 and remember those who both tragically lost their lives and heroically saved others.
As we get closer to Rosh Hashanah beginning the night of Sunday, September 29, the Jewish Federation is pleased to provide the 5780 High Holy Day Community Calendar full of wonderful opportunities for people to celebrate the New Year and holidays. We encourage you to find your place at one of our wonderful synagogues or seek your own personal ways to observe the holidays.
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the times when we can change ourselves and change the world. Rabbi Yisrael Meier Kagan, also known as the Chofetz Chaim, was an influential rabbi who lived during the mid-19th century until 1939. He was asked how he was able to have such great impact on the Jewish world. He answered, “Originally, I set out to change the world, but I failed. So, I decided to scale back my efforts and only influence the Jewish community of Poland, but I failed there, too. So, I targeted the Jewish community of my hometown of Radin, but I achieved no greater success. Then I gave all my effort to changing my own family and I failed at that as well. Finally, I decided to change myself and that is how I had such an impact on the Jewish world.”
You, too, can do the same!
On a final fun note, I hope you are enjoying Palindrome (a word, number, phrase, or other sequence of characters which reads the same backward as forward) Week during this week in September:
This will not happen again for 92 years.