I survived the year. I stayed afloat. You did too, each of us in our own boats to weather an unfathomable, unrelenting, unforeseen storm. It seems almost impossible to take stock of the past year — hands down the most difficult of my life, and I know I’m far from alone in that experience of struggle, tumult and overwhelm. Yet that is what I am called upon to do at the close of 5780, what my Jewish tradition commands for Rosh Hashanah: to reflect and repent, to awaken and architect, to begin and believe.
Last year, I lay in bed alone for the High Holidays, still raw from the trauma of my accident — unable to so much as utter song or prayer aloud, let alone dip apples in honey, make it to synagogue for my treasured once-yearly pilgrimage or even hear a single blast of the shofar. I did however engage in deep introspection, intention setting and attempts to derive meaning from our sacred traditions, albeit from a set up that looked very different at home and away from community.
Now, here we are in 2020, with all of us at home and away from community — an unfathomable thought for Jews worldwide entering the holiest days of our calendar — as yet another event, pillar, milestone is upended entirely and we are further disconnected from our tribe. But the end of a year, the start of a new one, the passage of time cannot be cancelled. Thus, as our people have done for millennia amid unprecedented upheaval, destruction and devastation, we must once more find ways to sustain, preserve and adapt, to fan the flame, maintain the vision and perform the rituals, to reaffirm hope, connection and significance — from where we are with whatever and whomever we have, proud pieces of an enduring tradition. Miracles, some say. Survival, say others. Regardless, we are not alone in either this moment or experience.
Tonight, like my ancestors before me, I will set a table teeming with symbolic foods (likely too much, a nod to my Jewish grandmother), dip crisp apples in sweet honey, light candles to separate the holy from the mundane, sing ancient prayers and melodies — and when it may seem there is little to celebrate in our midst, I will choose to celebrate the birthday of our world.
As we usher in the new year, may it bring new blessings, calm, health, light, peace, joy, optimism, and perhaps discovery of even more profound meaning, awareness and growth because of where we find ourselves in this time of pain, crisis, hardship, stress, tragedy, confusion, isolation, turmoil, loss, moral reckoning, threats, pressure, division, fear, grief, all of it. May we honestly examine our own behavior, take full responsibility for our actions, name our every transgression, humbly seek forgiveness, realize what no longer serves, course correct openly, love one and other, build bridges, set thoughtful personal intentions, and determine how we seek to and can change ourselves, even within unknown surroundings. May we engage in cheshbon ha'nefesh (accounting of the soul), practice tashlich (cleansing of self and sin) and know that redemption, renewal and transformation are possibilities never out of reach. Teshuva, teshuva: we can repent, make amends and return again, return again to the land of your soul (a line from one of the most powerful songs we sing in shul).
Rosh Hashanah invites us into the space between who we are and who we wish to become, what we have done and what we can accomplish, where we have transgressed and where we may right the wrongs, how we have lived and how we desire to forge ahead — to pursue justice, to engage in acts of lovingkindness, to embody the spirit of tikkun olam, to pray with our feet (Heschel), and to recognize our power as emissaries of light, beacons of hope, and forces for good. In the gift that is the Days of Awe between now and Yom Kippur, we are commanded to explore, grapple with, and face truths about ourselves, friends, families, communities, nation, world, aspirations, fears, goals, direction, pains, thoughts, identity, sins, pride, courage, leadership, responsibility, voting, power, change, self — at this precise moment where, in a sense, the waters of past, present and future converge. 5780 is behind us. 5781 is upon us. Shana tova!