High Holidays Offer Time for Reflection

The Days of Awe – Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the holiest days on the Jewish calendar – are upon us again. The start of the Jewish New Year comes this Sunday night, Sept. 29. The Day of Atonement, Oct. 9, marks the end of the 10 days of repentance.  

Just as Shabbat offers a weekly respite from the everyday world, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur provide a welcome time to reflect on the year just past and to look forward with the hope that the new year, 5780, will improve on the one just ending.

Rosh Hashanah, which literally translates as “head of the year,” is a time to ponder the situation in which the Jewish people and humankind find themselves. What part of our world is in need of tikkun olam, or repair, and how can we as individuals do our share to make our planet a safer, more humane and hopeful planet?

At this time, many situations cry out for our attention:

A volatile and violent world. A recent attack on oil refineries in Saudi Arabia, which Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed on Iran and called an act of war, has re-ignited the always explosive Middle East. Iran continues to be the leading nation of state-sponsored terrorism, supporting the genocidal Syrian regime in Damascus and proxy terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas, which pose a direct threat to the State of Israel.

• A new political reality in Israel. Last week’s election  ended in a virtual tie between supporters of incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party partners, and Benny Gantz, a former Israel Defense Forces chief, and the more center-left coalition supporting his Blue and White Party. The new year could be the first in over a decade without Netanyahu at the helm. Gantz shares many views with his rival, but he has a more subdued style. A moderated stance could revive the moribund peace process toward a two-state solution with the Palestinians afterPresident Donald Trump releases his self-described deal of the century.

The scourge of anti-Semitism. From Pennsylvania to California and overseas as well, anti-Semitism has grown, at times to deadly proportions. Synagogue shootings garner the most blaring headlines, but less visible acts of hatred and discrimination against Jews can be corrosive and harmful in a lesser but still dangerous way.

Deadly local violence. Closer to home, our St. Louis community, despite its many wonderful assets, is afflicted by a relentless crime rate that cries out for fresh solutions.  Children are being gunned down on playgrounds and front porches, and arrests are too rare because witnesses fear retaliation by the perpetrators if they come forward. Our elected leaders must find the courage and wisdom to adopt common-sense laws and vigorous enforcement that aid the good, valuable work of the vast majority of our law enforcement and first responders and help eliminate the wave of violence that has made daily urban life unacceptably perilous.

The environment. There is no longer a credible argument that climate change is not real. Environmental scientists have issued increasingly dire warnings that we must find a way to curb greenhouse gases or the world in which we live may become dangerous more quickly than we can fix it.  We must move beyond efforts like recycling and eliminating plastic straws toward a comprehensive, serious effort to lead the industrialized nations toward elimination of dangerous fossil fuels.

The Day of Atonement is a time to make peace not only with God but with all we have harmed or disrespected, either on purpose or inadvertently. We can make peace with the Eternal at any time, but until we make peace with those who have been harmed or disrespected, we have not fully repented.

Such introspection and sense of forgiveness is particularly important during these bitterly divisive times, when almost any discussion of politics or urgent issues can too often result in discord. We should recall that the Second Temple was destroyed in 70 C.E. because Jewish factions attacked one another. We should follow the urging of our prophet Isaiah, who said, “Come, let us reason together.” 

With these thoughts in mind, we wish all readers of the St. Louis Jewish Light a happy, healthy and fulfilling New Year, with the hope that our dynamic and diverse Jewish community will overcome our challenges with a full heart.