Local rabbis and cantors share heartfelt wishes for sweet new year

First of two parts

Shanah Tovah!

Editor’s Note:

Next week, we will gather for Rosh Hashanah in all the ways that our diverse community approaches the Divine. This is the first of two installments from area clergy; the rest will appear in our Sept. 29 edition. Let the stirring sounds of the shofar call us to examine ourselves, to work hard to be better people and to do what is right for ourselves and others. Most of all, may you have a sweet new year and many blessings of health, spirit and peace. 

Rabbi Andrew Bloom
Ahavath Shalom

In the Babylonian Talmud, Masechet Berachot, we read: “When Rabban (Rabbi) Johanan ben Zakkai fell ill, his disciples went in to visit him. When he saw them he began to weep. His disciples said to him: Lamp of Israel, pillar of the right hand, mighty hammer! Wherefore weepest thou? He replied: If I were being taken today before a human king who is here today and tomorrow in the grave, whose anger if he is angry with me does not last forever, who if he imprisons me does not imprison me forever and who if he puts me to death does not put me to everlasting death, and whom I can persuade with words and bribe with money, even so I would weep. Now that I am being taken before the supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, who lives and endures forever and ever whose anger, if He is angry with me, is an everlasting anger, who if He imprisons me imprisons me forever, who if He puts me to death puts me to death forever, and who I cannot persuade with words or bribe with money — nay more, when there are two ways before me, one leading to Paradise and the other to Gehinnom, and I do not know by which I shall be taken, shall I not weep?” (Babylonian Talmud Masechet Berachot 28b)

What does this scene between Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai and his students teach us? Many scholars think that it relates to the famous story of his escape from Jerusalem and his negotiations with the Romans for “Yavneh and its Sages.” According to these scholars, Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai did not know if he had transgressed in his actions. On his deathbed he was still trying to figure out if he had done the right thing. I believe, historically speaking, it is safe to say from the development of Rabbinic Judaism that Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai made the right choice. However, I think that this story has something much more basic to teach us, something that ties in with the High Holy Days, and that is, when it comes to morality there is only one course to follow, and that is to fulfill God’s mitzvot and statues. This is the theme we must all ponder upon during the upcoming days. For if we do, the upcoming year might truly be blessed. May these upcoming High Holy Days help us along this path. May we all be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life.

Cantor Elisa Abrams Cohn
Congregation Beth Shalom

A walk with the King

If you want a King to lend His ear, you must have a reason to be asked to the palace. You have to take special care to follow the rules of the palace, and if you are invited, you have to engage in all kinds of protocols surrounding your attire, the way you approach the King, the formality of your language. Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi taught that once each year, during this month of Elul, leading up to the High Holy Days, we believe that “the King is in the field.” And during this special time, anyone can walk beside the King, informally, and bare their soul to Him.

Elul, a time when we work toward returning to our best selves, is like a homecoming. As a college and graduate student, I loved the independence, but there was nothing like going home to Los Angeles, to my childhood home. I remember joyful tears filling my eyes as my plane would land at LAX or Burbank Airport. It always felt familiar, nostalgic and warm, surrounded in childhood memories and home-cooked comfort food. It was a place where I could reground and recalibrate, turn inward, take stock of my life and remember my roots. Elul is this familiar place to which we return each year, a month which beckons to us to seek God.

As we approach the High Holy Days, I invite you to meet the King in the field. No need to make an appointment or worry about pomp and circumstance. He is there waiting for you. What would you share with the King? What is weighing on your heart? What is troubling your soul? For what would you express gratitude? For what would you ask of God? What would God share with you? And how would this walk change you? 

Shanah Tovah U’Metukah!

Rabbi Holly Levin Cohn
Chaplain, The Legacy
at Home Hospice

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “What we need in this world are not more textbooks, but more text people.”

I love this and feel blessed that as a hospice chaplain I get to meet many text people. Almost every day, I engage in life review with others, whether it is speaking with a patient or with a family member. I get to hear stories of memories that enlighten my heart and I also capture anecdotes of heartbreak. I am privileged to see pictures of the present and the past, not only literally, but also in the visuals that are created by words and facial expressions.

As we enter the year 5783, I encourage all who are reading this to find the text people in your life and capture their stories now rather than learning of them later in a eulogy or obituary. Some feel that their life experience is not worthy of sharing. Nothing could be further than the truth.

As author David Kessler writes in his book “Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief,” “Life has peaks and valleys. It’s our responsibility to be present for both.” Both raise stories from within. Both can generate connection. Both are on our mind as we pray during this season. 

May the peaks and valleys of this coming year provide inspiration and meaning. May you feel enriched and enlivened by the text people in your life. May your story be one of strength and courage. May you be blessed with peace and tranquility, health and hope when faced with all of life’s blessings and challenges. Shanah Tovah.

Rabbi Geoffrey Dennis
Congregation Kol Ami

My beloved Tanakh teacher, Chanan Brichto, once said, “If you come up with a truly novel interpretation of the Bible, it’s probably wrong.” So much has been written about our Torah, it is hard to be original. But as another beloved Bible teacher, Alan Cooper, once observed, “Originality is greatly overrated.” Indeed, much of Jewish teaching is simply repackaging the mesorah, the tradition, in new and sparkly-shiny ways. So, if you’ve heard this before, listen anyway.

The root of the Hebrew word for “year,” SH-N-H, as in rosh ha-SHaNaH, has two fundamental, seemingly contradictory, meanings, not unlike the English word “cleave” (cling to, but also separate). On one side of the coin, it means “to repeat,” as in “…and you shall repeat them to your children…” (Deuteronomy 6:5).

On the other side of the coin, it can mean, “to change.” Thus, shanah, year, means “changed [seasons].”

So, on one level, these High Holy Days we always find ourselves back where we started. Wash, rinse, repeat. The Days of Awe can feel a little bit like laundry day. There is no end to the cycle, which can, in fact, bring comfort. However, embedded in this routine is the promise of change, a challenge. In other words, we can find ourselves back where we started, only a little better off. Thus, we live not in a flat circle, but in a potential spiral, moving slowly but constantly toward a higher plane of being.

The Holy One of Blessing knows that few of us are first-trial learners. It is part of human nature to repeat our mistakes, to reinforce failure. But in moments of heightened self-awareness, change is possible. That is the genius of our High Holy Days. They acknowledge who we are, but also remind us who we can become.

Congregation Kol Ami wishes you all not only a sweet New Year, but a mindful and elevating one, as well.

Rabbi Aryeh Feigenbaum
Congregation Ohr HaTorah

Immediately after the sounding of the shofar during Mussaf, we say “Today is the birthday of the universe.” By this we mean that everything starts fresh on Rosh Hashanah, that we are given the gift of a new beginning. But what does this actually mean? How can we rise above cliché and actually relate to Rosh Hashanah as a fresh start?.

The Nesivos Shalom explains: Rosh Hashanah is not a commemoration of the time that the world was created. It is not an anniversary. It is a period of time endowed with the power of creation. “Today is the birthday of the universe” because today Hashem is actually willing the universe into existence in the same way He did in the first act of creation. Each year is its own creation, and, as such, has its own uniqueness that never was and never will be again.

That is why your previous situation, your circumstances, where you are, where you have been, what you have done, do not have a hold on your future. What matters is where you want to be, who you want to be. You get to participate in the act of creation along with Hashem. The direction you want to take in the future is what matters, because Rosh Hashanah is a moment of creation ex-nihilo, unencumbered by the past.

The Torah reading for the first day is about the birth of our forefather Yitzchok and his rivalry with Yishmael, who has to be sent away from Avraham’s household. Though he is destined to be a source of terrible pain to the Jewish people, and he is close to death, Hashem listened to his cries for salvation because at that moment he presents himself as a devoted servant of Hashem crying out for help. Hashem responded “Ba’asher hu shom,” to whom he was at the moment.

This is the gift of Rosh Hashanah, It is an opportunity to create ourselves from nothing. The judgment of Rosh Hashanah is not merely an assessment; it is actually a moment in which Hashem, as He creates the world anew, determines who we will be as well. And who we will be depends on who we want to create ourselves as.

As Hashem assesses His creation, may He look into our hearts and see our intentions to take the life He gives us and create out of ourselves devoted servants to His monarchy.

Rabbi Stephen Fisch
Congregation Adat Chaverim

We at Adat Chaverim are proud that we are starting the new year in our new building in Plano. Our leadership and congregants have worked hard during the past year preparing our new home. We’d love for you to come by and let us greet you with a hearty Shalom.

As the new year approaches, we are filled with a spirit of profound gratitude for all the gifts that G-d has bestowed on us, and, at the same time, we remember with great sadness our friends who are no longer with us.

As all Jews do at this time of our year, we reflect on our deeds and regrets during the past year. We are thankful for the profound gift of teshuvah, given to us every day.

We are especially mindful of our need to congratulate ourselves for our accomplishments. We are also mindful of our need to correct anything that has inhibited us from fulfilling our profound and sacred potential.

At the same time, I firmly believe that before we can ask forgiveness from G-d and our fellow human beings, we need to accept and, if necessary, apologize to ourselves.

The worst possible sin we can commit is degrading ourselves. We all know that our thoughts and deeds have need for improvement, but when we dwell too long on our imperfections, we move farther away from being in tzelem Elohim, the image of our G-d.

I wish you an inspiring holiday season and a year filled with health, joy and many simchot.

Rabbi Mordechai Harris
Interim Chief Operating Officer &
Rabbi in Residence Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas

Like sheep marching to battle on the edge of a cliff

All pass before God “like b’nei maron” on Rosh Hashanah (Mishnah, Rosh Hashanah 1:2). The three interpretations of this term brought by the Talmud (BT, RH 18a as understood by Rashi) provide insight into how we might approach this season’s introspection.

The first unattributed interpretation (utilized by most machzorim — High Holy Days prayer books) translates “k’bnei maron” as “like a flock of sheep” who are counted one by one as they pass through a small opening in preparation for tithing. It’s the sum of the flock that is of interest to the Shepherd. We draw praise or criticism only when we meaningfully deviate from our peers. Do we live up to the expectations of our community? Does our flock bring pride to our Shepherd?

Reish Lakish offers a second interpretation, “as in the ascent of Beit Maron,” the name of a narrow pass offering groups no choice but to traverse in single-file formation lest they fall into the deep valley on either side. We all stand upon narrow straits. Others may be nearby, but traversing the path successfully is a solo adventure, each of us independently accountable and impacted by our own actions. Do we go through life with sufficient awareness of our surroundings? Do we manifest our unique potential?

Finally, Rav Yehudah records in the name of Shmuel that “k’bnei maron” means “like King David’s soldiers,” who would march single file as they left for battle. Success or failure in battle hinges on the aggregate actions of all soldiers. Some individuals will return heroes while others may never return home. Our individual actions join up with those of others to determine the overall fate of our community. Nevertheless, individual legacies are forged through personal actions. Do we dedicate ourselves to the common cause of our community? Do we recognize, appreciate and give honor when we benefit from the sacrifices of others?

As we embark on a new year, may we be blessed to see our deeds bring good upon ourselves and our community. Shanah Tovah.

Rabbi Nancy Kasten
Chief Relationship Officer
for Faith Commons

The shofar sounds more urgently than ever as the Jewish year 5783 approaches. “Arise from your slumber, you who are asleep; wake up, you who are fast asleep… Those of you who forget the truth because of passing fantasies, indulging in empty pursuits which neither benefit nor save, look into your souls, amend your ways and deeds.” Maimonides could have written Hilchot Teshuvah, these Laws of Repentance, with 2022 in mind. Three weeks after Simchat Torah, the drop-dead date to be written into the book of life, the midterm elections will take place. Life and death truly hang in the balance as we approach Nov. 8.

Responses to the existential threats of our day will be shaped by those for whom we vote in November. Some candidates on the ballot are funded by White Supremacists and Christian Nationalists. Others supported the attack on the Capitol directly or indirectly. Some incumbents voted to overturn the 2020 election results. All undermine democracy, and erode our security as a religious minority in this country. We invest untold resources to secure our community from hatred and violence. Yet some of us vote for candidates and elected officials who stoke and arm our attackers.

Mass shootings and terror attacks are signs that our viability as a human species is in jeopardy. So are pandemics, flooding and tornadoes. These signs are becoming more numerous and inescapable. The question this High Holy Day season, and this election season, is whether we will wake up, shift our focus, change our course. 

Like these multiple and varied signals that we will perish if we don’t change, these High Holy Days try repeatedly to wake us up. The shofar blast is our first warning. The scriptural passages we read are the second and the third. In the story of Hagar and Ishmael (Genesis 21), life is almost lost due to a focus on scarcity rather than abundance. The Akedah (Genesis 22) warns that we sacrifice our future if we don’t distinguish between faithfulness and fanaticism.

Teshuvah asks us to change for our own good, not separate from the good of others, that we and our community might survive and thrive. May our Jewish community wake up to the demands of our day, and respond, not only in our hearts but also in the voting booth. Shanah Tovah.

Rabbi Mendy Kesselman
Chabad of Frisco

A year of Hakhel — assembly

Shalom Dear Friends,

I would like to begin by wishing each and every one of you a Shanah Tovah Umetukah — a good and sweet new year. May the new year be for you and your family a year of good health, prosperity, peace, nachas and success in all your endeavors.

This coming year 5783 is a special year: It is a “Hakhel” year.

Hakhel means to assemble; every seven years on the holiday of Sukkot in the year following the Shemittah year (land Sabbatical), the entire Jewish nation — men, women and children — would assemble in Jerusalem and hear the king read from the Torah in the Temple.

The Torah says: “At the end of every seven years, at an appointed time, in the Festival of Sukkot [following] the year of Shemittah, when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord, your G-d, in the place He will choose, you shall read this Torah before all Israel, in their ears. Assemble the people: the men, the women, the children…” (Deuteronomy 31:10-12).

This assembly and gathering of the people would have a profound effect on all those that participated, being united with so many Jewish people and hearing the king read from the Torah.

Although we may not be able to fulfill this instruction in its literal form in today’s day and age, this coming year is still a Hakhel year. The year of 5783 is a year of community, assembly and unity.

Let us use this opportunity to infuse everything we do with the spirit of Hakhel. Let us add more opportunities for community and assembly. In this merit, may we merit to have the ultimate “Hakhel” gathering with the coming of Moshiach — Amen!

Rabbi Andrew Paley
Temple Shalom

As we approach the High Holy Days, we are invited to imagine a time and a world that is better, kinder and filled more fully with wholeness and holiness, a world different than the one we experienced last year. It is a time filled with hope and possibility.

In truth, there is much darkness in our world — violence, illness, personal, familial and professional worry — the list seems to go on and on and sometimes many of these ailments strike simultaneously. So when life is dark, what gives me hope?

I take hope in knowing that Judaism is, at its core, in invitation to a life of hope whereby we, as God’s junior partner in the ongoing work of creation, have a role to play in making the world better and brighter. Judaism teaches that God needs me and you and our efforts to bring about the Shalom our world so desperately needs. As Jeremiah 31:17 taught, “…there is hope for your future, declares the Lord.”

I take hope in knowing that I stand in relationship with others about whom I care and who care about me. My family, my Temple, my colleagues and friends, remind me that even though I may be by myself sometimes, I need not feel alone. Community, the antidote to loneliness, gives me hope.

Finally, what gives me hope is knowing that I can bring light to the darkness. When I light candles on Rosh Hashanah this year, I am really imposing a sense of light on the darkness. I am shouting that darkness will not prevail — I am not powerless. I can light a match. I can create a spark. I can help. I don’t have to live in darkness. I have the power to bring on the light. As George Iles, a 19th-century playwright, once said, “Hope is faith holding out its hand in the dark.” Even in the darkness, hope abounds. May you and yours have a hope-filled, sweet and joyous New Year!

Rabbi Ariel Rackovsky
Congregation Shaare Tefilla

If you ask anyone what the primary mitzvah of Rosh Hashanah is, they will undoubtedly tell you that it is the shofar. Yet, if you look at the text of the Rosh Hashanah Mussaf, another musical instrument occupies pride of place: the trumpets. The Torah commands us to fashion two golden trumpets, the purpose of which is to rally the troops in times of war and to be sounded on joyous days and festivals. While the Torah uses a familiar word to describe their sound — a teruah — the trumpets are not the shofar and have nothing to do with Rosh Hashanah. Why, then, are they mentioned over and over again in our Amidah?

The Talmud tells us that while all the vessels forged by Moses would be suitable for use forever, the trumpets had to be fashioned anew in every generation. The great Dayan and Rosh Yeshiva Rav Yechezkel Abramsky, one of the legendary Torah personalities of the 19th and 20th centuries, asserts that, since the purpose of the trumpets was to rally the people together and call them to travel, it would be ineffective to do so with an instrument that was outdated. Every generation has its own challenges, language and modes of communication, and the challenges of each generation, and the timeless messages we wish to impart, require ingenuity, creativity and flexibility — the capacity to pivot.

On Rosh Hashanah, the day which symbolizes reinvention, adaptation and renewal, our instrument of choice is not only the shofar, which rouses us from our slumber, but also the chatzotzrot, the symbol of change and reinvention. If you think about it, the ability to pivot is exactly the theme of the year we are concluding — the Shemittah year — because in Israel, 5782 is a Shemittah year, in which all produce within a field suddenly becomes ownerless. If your livelihood depends upon the agricultural cycle, Shemittah represents serious economic challenges, and requires the ability to pivot, to be inventive, to respond to change. Many of us cannot fathom such a large pivot in our lives, but we can take significant steps to change the trajectory of our lives — not just in response to a changing world, but because we realize our world needs changing.

Rabbi Daniel Ringelheim
Rosh Yeshiva,
Texas Torah Institute

Dear Friends,

As we reflect upon the year that is ending and the new year that is about to dawn, we pray that all the turmoil and unrest of the previous year are revealed to be the upheaval that precedes the coming of the Moshiach, and that this coming year will bring the full redemption of the Jewish people, their return to the Land of Israel and the rebuilding of our Holy Temple.

On behalf of the students, teachers, hanhala (staff) and board of directors of the Texas Torah Institute, we take this opportunity to wish all our brothers and sisters, in Dallas and around the world, a sweet new year full of peace, health and happiness.

Rabbi Aryeh Rodin
Congregation Ohev Shalom

There is a universal custom to dip a piece of an apple in honey and recite a request that we be blessed with a sweet year. Many years ago, I heard a fascinating insight by one of my congregants, Michael Baum, A.H., that I would like to share with you. According to the laws of kashrus, the secretions of a creature mirror the kosher status of the being that it comes from. For instance, milk that comes from a cow is kosher but milk that comes from a horse is treif. The one exception to this rule is honey that comes from a bee. Though the bee is not kosher, the honey is. A symbolic lesson that we can learn from here is that we are appealing to Hashem by saying that even though we have stumbled along the way and at times thought, said or acted in a treif manner, please consider the example of the bee. Consequently, when we pray to You and do mitzvos, may they not be sullied but instead be pure and sweet like honey!

Wishing you a Happy, Healthy, Productive and Sweet New Year!

Rabbi Seymour Rossel
Author of ‘Alone and Wrestling,’ ‘The Wise Folk of Chelm,’ ‘A Child’s Bible’ and ‘The Essential Jewish Stories’

Great Jewish communities should have more than one budget. Especially at this time of the year, we should be reimagining our “spiritual budget.” Some of us are rich spiritually and some of us feel like we could use some spiritual help. Another way to say this is: All of us are spiritually rich sometimes and spiritually needy at other times.

The beauty of a community like ours — a family-style place — is that we can “be there” for one another. In our communal spiritual budget we do not ask about funds; we ask about souls. A famous story regards the rabbi who reached home exhausted after preaching on Rosh Hashanah. When his wife asked if the preaching had gone well, he replied, “I have achieved half of what is necessary. The poor are ready to receive.”

Our communal spiritual budget should help us find ways to achieve “the other half” of what is necessary. At this High Holy Days season, let’s reach out to one another — through work on committees, through service to congregations, through strengthening the community by giving time and effort. If we all fill ourselves with the spirit of sharing and giving, we may soon find that those who are in need — those who suffer from illness, those who suffer from pain, those who suffer physically, those who suffer spiritually — will find the necessary human element so fundamental to healing and solace.

Of course, if you think about it for a minute, you realize that all Jewish communities already have a spiritual budget — one that renews itself constantly. We call it Torah. It guides us spiritually from one Jewish New Year to the next. It gives us hope and commands us to give hope to others. It brings us comfort and commands us to bring comfort to others. As Dov Ber the Maggid of Mezeritch said, “The object is not just to study Torah but to live in such a way that you become Torah.” May this be the year that Torah’s light brings you and your family spiritual riches beyond measure; and may this be the year that we share those riches with one another in our great North Texas community. L’Shanah Tovah! “A good New Year!”

Rabbi Matt Rutta, M.A.Ed.
Director of Jewish Student Life at the Hillels of North Texas and member of the Rabbinic Association of Greater Dallas

5783: a new hope

When you were filling out your 5782 bingo card, did you guess that the year would result in the deaths of many comedians, mafia movie actors and Queen Elizabeth II? That the most popular song would be a cute kid from South Dakota talking about corn? There’s no way of knowing!

I had a revelation living and learning in Israel back in 2006. I needed to renew my student visa and the appointment I was given was the 27th of Nisan, Yom HaShoah. I skipped yeshiva that morning and, as I was walking next to the prime minister’s house, the sirens went off to mark the two minutes of silence for those who were murdered in the Shoah. As people exited their cars to stand at attention, I broke down in tears. What Jew in Europe in 1945 could imagine that three years later there would be a Jewish State in our ancestral homeland, that a Jew could be standing next to the Jewish prime minister’s house looking out on the Old City of Jerusalem?

A few years ago, the former Israeli chief rabbi, Meir Lau, a Holocaust survivor, spoke to my students here in Dallas. He quoted Ezekiel 37, where the prophet exiled to Babylonia is transported to a valley of dry bones as the Jews of Jerusalem themselves are being exiled. God tells Ezekiel to prophesy that they will come back to life. God informs him that they are complaining, “Our bones are dried up, our hope is gone, avda tikvateinu; we are doomed.” When poet Naftali Herz Imber heard that Jews, including my ancestor Rabbi Aryeh Leib Frumkin, were building a community in a swamp they called Petach Tikvah, the Opening of Hope, he wrote a poem in which he wrote, “Od LO avda tikvateinu,” “Our hope is NOT yet lost!” This was adapted as “Hatikvah,” the national anthem of Israel, a country founded on hope.

We don’t know what 5783 will bring, but we must face the new year with whatever it brings. Let us hope and pray that it will be a year of health, happiness, success, blessing, life and peace.

Rabbi Zecharia Sionit
Sephardic Torah Center of Dallas

Leshanah tovah, beriah umevorechet tikatevu vetehamenu (May you be written and sealed for a good, healthy and blessed new year).

On behalf of myself, my family and Sephardic Torah Center, I would like to wish a most blessed year to the greater Dallas Jewish community and the entirety of Am Yisrael. May all the challenges of the recent, unprecedented couple of years fade away with the arrival of the new year, and may 5783 indeed be a year of immense health, prosperity, growth and peace for our nation and the entire world, Amen.

As we recite in the beautiful liturgy of Rosh Hashanah: “Tichleh shanah vekilleloteha, tahel shanah uvirchoteha.” May the old year and its curses conclude; may the new year and its blessings begin, Amen.

The Temple Emanu-El Clergy, from left, seated: Rabbi Debra J. Robbins, Cantor Vicky Glikin, Rabbi David Stern and Rabbi Kimberly Herzog Cohen; standing: Rabbi Amy Rossel, Rabbi Michael Lewis and Cantor Leslie Niren

Rabbi David Stern
On behalf of the
Temple Emanu-El Clergy

This year’s season of renewal comes when we need it most. The pandemic and its variants continue among us, American society is riven by deep political divides, war in Ukraine has faded from the headlines but not from the front lines, state legislation in Texas threatens reproductive and religious freedom and creates fear for families of children seeking to affirm diverse gender identities. We are outraged or resigned, awake and aware but dispirited. We know we are not our best America. We sense that we are not our best selves.

In the face of all those challenges, “Shanah Tovah!” can ring hollow. We can almost hear our doubting selves: “A good year? What’s so good about it?”

But there is another sound to these days. Maimonides taught that the message of the shofar is Uru uru yeshenim — “Awake you slumberers from your sleep!” Some years, with Maimonides, I understand our slumber to be the sleep of complacency, all the daily routines and misplaced priorities which can blind us to higher callings and deeper truths.

But this year, I wonder if that first piercing “Tekiah!” might be aimed directly at our resignation and despair. I wonder if Rosh Hashanah might arrive to jolt us toward a sense of the possible. Because the shofar offers the sound of hope not as a lullaby, but as an awakening.

In August, we lost David McCullough, the great teller of our American story. McCullough once said, “People often ask me if I’m working on a book. That’s not how I feel. I feel like I work in a book.”

That wisdom, too, is a shofar sound. We are not called to live on hope, as if hope were some manna that will nourish us from above, some commodity detached from who we are. We are called to live in hope: to make the choices, speak the words, manifest the courage, share the compassion, dare the love — through which we can rediscover and recreate the wholeness that has been in God’s sometimes shattered world all along.

The Congregation Shearith Israel Klei Kodesh, from left, seated: Rabbi Adam Roffman and Rabbi Ari Sunshine; standing: Avi Mitzner, Rabbi Shira Wallach and Hazzan Itzhak Zhrebker

Rabbi Ari Sunshine 
On Behalf of the
Shearith Israel Klei Kodesh

Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins, in his book “Moments of Transcendence: Inspirational Readings for Rosh Hashanah,” offers a retelling of a traditional midrash, rabbinic legend, about Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden which resulted in the end of human immortality. Adam complains to God, afraid that because his story is recorded in the Torah, all of humanity would know that it is Adam’s fault that they will not be able to live forever. Adam argues with God, “As far as wicked people are concerned, I don’t mind if they are mortal. But what about good people? I am afraid that the innocent and the righteous will blame me for their deaths!” God responds and tells Adam not to worry, because going forward each individual will be responsible for presenting an accounting of his or her own life, and the question of life and its quality will depend on each individual and their choices. Thus, according to the midrash, from that time on, we have been praying on the High Holy Days, “Kotvenu b’sefer ha-chayim,” “Write us in the Book of Life.” We will not be able to live forever, nor will we know the length of our days. But when we ask God during these upcoming High Holy Days to inscribe us for a meaningful life, we should simultaneously remember that this year, as every year, it is up to each of us to fill the ledgers of our sifrei ha-chayim with acts of kindness, compassion, truth, justice, goodness, mercy and love. May this season of teshuvah, of repentance and return, and the coming year of 5783, bring each of us, our loved ones and our communities, only good health, sweetness and joy.

L’Shanah Tovah Tikateivu v’Techateimu.

Rabbi Howard Wolk
Community chaplain, Jewish Family Service, and rabbi emeritus, Congregation Shaare Tefilla

Beginnings are exciting. We anticipate the start of new ventures, new projects and new opportunities. Often these beginnings are tinged with elements of nervousness and uncertainty. We hope and pray for success, but who really knows?

For most people, embarking on a new year is filled with the same types of emotions and concerns, sometimes trepidations.

What will the new year bring us? Health? Wealth? Contentment? Loss? Only G-d knows. Our High Holidays Mahzor crystallizes out thoughts in the U’nesaneh Tokef prayer. Mi yichyeh umi yamut? Who shall live and who shall die? No prayer in our liturgy is more stark or real than this one.

So, we think about the “big” issues. The “small” ones are important, too.

On the second day of Rosh Hashanah, we read the Akeidah — the Binding of Isaac. We are all familiar with the story. Abraham is commanded by Hashem to take Isaac, his beloved son, his only son from Sarah, and offer him up on an altar.

Abraham makes all the preparations and is about to comply with the Divine directive — when an angel intercedes. Abraham stops.

Most people would have walked away at that point. Instead, Abraham offers a ram in Isaac’s place. 

Abraham said: G-d, even though you do not want Isaac, I still want to comply with all the other parts of your command. Therefore, the ram is put on the altar.

The offering of the ram was a “little detail” in the overall scope of things. However, to Abraham, it was important, too.

The “little things” often say much about the “big things.” Winning sports teams always talk about the “little things” they did in order to win a championship. The big accomplishments are important, too. However, without those “little things” the team would not be successful.

The “little things” often say much about us. The little “thank-you’s,” the little courtesies, the little “I love you’s.” All these are important indications of the depth of our interpersonal relationships.

In the new year of 5783, may we meet our “big” responsibilities and our “little” ones.

May Hashem reward us with both His “big’ and “small” blessings.

Shanah Tovah.
Ketivah va’Hatimah Tovah.

Happy and Healthy New Year to all

Rabbi Elana Zelony
Congregation Beth Torah

Every summer at Padre Island National Seashore, Kemp Ridley Sea Turtle hatchlings totter down the sand and into the Gulf of Mexico. It takes dozens of volunteers to support them. They rescue cold-stunned adult turtles in the winter before they drown so they survive to mate and lay eggs. They find nests in the spring and move them to protected locations. Finally, in the summer months, they assist the newborn turtles into the water. In a time when we’re living under the ferocious threats of climate change, polluted oceans, deforestation, etc., I found myself touched by the idea that so many people care about restoring something fragile and beautiful to our ecosystem.

Rosh Hashanah celebrates the anniversary of creation. It’s an opportunity to express gratitude for living on a planet with an abundance of life. Mah rabu ma’asekha Hashem — How manifold is your creation, God! It’s also a time to acknowledge the interconnectedness of all things. The enormous effort to help tiny sea turtles repopulate sends ripples of goodness through the entire planet. The impact of hundreds of volunteer hours matters and they do have an impact.

I didn’t make it to Padre Island National Seashore this summer to witness a turtle release, but next summer I’ll check the Hatchling Hotline (yes, that’s a real thing) for information about hatching, and I hope to find time to go.

It is easy to become discouraged when we look at the problems of the world. The destruction of our oceans is but one example. What is it that you want to do to celebrate creation, for it is a fact that you are a part of it capable of making a difference?

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