L’Shana Tova, Happy New Year
SHANA TOVA U’METUKA
Rabbis For Human Rights wishes you, your loved ones, and the entire world a good, sweet and more just new year.
René Cassin would like to wish you a happy, healthy and sweet New Year, and thank you for your continued support.
By Mordechai I. Twersky, Ha’aretz
September 14, 2012
In keeping with Jewish tradition, spiritual leaders will attempt to “stir” the hearts of their congregants this month with High Holy Day sermons dedicated to themes of repentance. Haaretz has spoken with four Anglo spiritual leaders about the messages they plan to impart on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which begins September 16 at sundown; on Yom Kippur, September 26; and on the Sabbath between the two dates, known as Shabbat Shuva, the Sabbath of Return.
The following are excerpts from these interviews, which may be heard at haaretz.com.
Listen to each other:
Rabbi Stewart Weiss (Orthodox), is the director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana. Weiss is a native of Chicago, Illinois, who immigrated to Israel from Dallas, Texas, in 1992:
“I think that the primary message that I want to communicate this Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur is for all of us to work on our interpersonal relationships, and specifically on the art of hearing,” says Weiss. “The rabbis say that every holiday has a color. It also has a sense. … The sense of the High Holy Days, clearly, is hearing: to listen to the shofar, to ask God to listen to our prayers, and I think most importantly to listen to one another. Israel is a country where we are excellent at communicating, at talking − we probably spend more time on the cell phone, per capita, than any other country. But it’s listening that we have to work on, and perfect that art. God gave us two ears, one mouth. We should be doing twice as much listening.”
Hope and action
Rabbi Miri Gold (Reform), leads Kehilat Birkat Shalom in Kibbutz Gezer, a regional synagogue affiliated with the Israeli Reform movement. Gold is a native of Detroit, Michigan, who immigrated to Israel in 1977:
“I hope to convey a message of hope and action,” says Gold.
“I believe that Judaism is all about doing. And after we’ve gone through our soul-searching in the month of Elul, I think there’s a tendency to come up feeling discouraged and despairing over all of the things that went wrong in our own lives and in our society and in our world. And so the message I’m trying to convey is that during this holiday season, when we often talk about it as the birth of the world and humankind, that we can realize that it’s really a time when we can make changes and show by our actions that even on a very small and modest level we can make the world a better place − tikkun olam.”
Search for meaning
Rabbi Jeff Cymet (Masorti) leads Kehila Chadasha, a new congregation in North Tel Aviv. He is a native of Hollywood, Florida, who immigrated to Israel in 1992. A practicing attorney, Cymet was ordained four years ago at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York City:
“I’m going to convey this High Holy Day season what we convey every High Holy Day season, which is the search for meaning,” says Cymet. “Everyone … needs to recommit and renew and refresh their own personal mission. And we do that with the understanding that each one of us is mortal. None of us will live forever, and we know each and every year there are some who will live and some who will die. And we need to figure out how to make our own lives meaningful in that context − meaningful in the context of knowing that each one of us will have an end at some point and how to make our works for the coming year have some lasting value.”
Ask for redemption
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin (Orthodox) is the founding Chief Rabbi of Efrat and founder and dean of the Ohr Torah Stone Institutions, in the United States and Israel. A native of New York City, Rabbi Riskin immigrated to Israel in 1983:
“What is it that we’re supposed to ask of God? Most people who come to the synagogue ask for another year of life. Ask for good health. Ask for pleasure from their children. Ask for good sustenance,” says Riskin. “But there’s a story by [the Yiddish writer I. L.] Peretz, ‘Bontshe Shtok,’ Bontshe the Silent, about a man who lived a horrific life and never said a word against God or against man. When he came to heaven, God asked him, ‘You tell me what you want as your reward.’ The only thing he could ask for was a fresh roll and hot butter every morning. And Satan laughed the mordant laugh of victory. Sometimes the world can be so difficult it robs an individual of his dreams and of real vision. He could have asked for redemption.”
Occupy Rosh Hashanah
By Rabbi Michael Lerner, Huffington Post
September 14, 2012
Last year a thousand young people gathered at the Occupy demonstration in NY to celebrate Rosh Hashanah. That will happen again this year in N.Y. and at a service sponsored by Beyt Tikkun synagogue-without-walls in Berkeley, California (at the Pacific School of Religion Sept. 16-18. I’ll be co-leading the High Holiday services in the S.F. Bay Area with Rabbis Phyllis Berman and Arthur Waskow (author of Seasons of our Joy, Godwrestling, and many books on Judaism and the environment and chair of the Shalom Center), and with the participation of Code Pink leader Rae Abileah and spoken word poet Josh Healey. These will be social justice and environmental-oriented services (info at www.BeytTikkun.org).
After the services and the veggie pot-luck that follows it on the first day, we will be picketing the Wells Fargo bank in downtown Berkeley, though our intention is to challenge the lending practices of all the major banks including Bank of America, Chase, etc. This event will be cosponsored by the Shalom Center, Beyt Tikkun, Kehillah community synagogue, and the Occupy Bay Area Jewish Contingent, though we invite people of all faiths to participate both in the services and in the demonstration..
Why on Rosh Hashanah? Isn’t this mixing politics and religion? Well, in Judaism there is no such separation — the entire Torah is the story of a liberation struggle against oppression that Jews read a part of each Shabbat. In fact, a fundamental message of Judaism was that the God of the universe cared about social justice, peace, and love, and hence sought for people to engage in lives that fostered a society that embodied those values.
But there is more. The Torah specifically enjoins us to not offer loans for interest, but rather to loan without expectation of reward. And it also enjoins us to redistribute the wealth of the society (in the ancient world, that would be land ownership) every 50 years. Suspecting that people might find it challenging to do this, that they might come up with rationales for not doing so, God is heard to be saying that people need to remember that “The whole earth is Mine.” That is, there is no “right” to private property or to the produce that we humans help bring forth from the earth. We are, the Torah tells us, merely sojourners on God’s earth, and our obligation is to protect the earth and care for it, not to act as though we have a right to it. So, the Torah enjoins us to share the food with the homeless, the stranger (the “Other” or in today’s reality, the immigrant), the widow and orphan (i.e. the powerless).
And the High Holidays (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) are the very days when these obligations were to be proclaimed and people were to begin to implement them. So of course, Rosh Hashanah is the perfect time to start our questioning of how to rebuild our societal institutions in ways that are in accord with the central value being expressed here: the equal worth of all human beings, be they Jewish or strangers, be they well-to-do or poor, be they powerful or powerless.
As we have seen in the U.S. in the past few years, the selfishness of the rich and powerful and the institutions that embody their ethos of serving the rich and powerful at the expense of everyone else has been hugely destructive. At the center of that ethos are the banks and Wall Street, so it makes sense that on Rosh Hashanah, when we ask ourselves what kind of transformation we need, that we start with these institutions, challenging them to stop and repair the damage they have done to the poor and the powerless (which today includes much of the American middle class).
And there is still more. The Rosh Hashanah liturgy is focused not only on inner transformation (tikkun atzmee) but also transformation of the economic, political and social institutions of our world (tikkun olam). Of course, we at Tikkun magazine and our activist arm the interfaith (including secular humanists) Network of Spiritual Progressives, are engaged in these activities all year round. But specifically on Rosh Hashanah those of us who are Jews get to repeat throughout this period the vision of our ancient rabbis when God (not the rich or powerful) would be the king over all the earth and “the earth will open its mouth and in one moment all the evil will perish, so that the kingdom of arrogance (which today we can clearly identify as global capitalism to the extent that it increases the suffering, exploitation, and unequal distribution of wealth and food and basic essential of life) will pass from the earth.”
Of course, our tradition teaches us to be compassionate, both towards others who have wronged us and toward the parts of ourselves that embody the same distortions of selfishness and materialism that global capital represents. Just as on Yom Kippur we ask God to be generous and forgiving toward us, as long as we make serious efforts to heal those distorted parts of ourselves, so we approach others who have been at the center of the system of exploitation with an attitude of compassion and an invitation to join us in the process of healing our planet by building a “new bottom line” so that our economic, political and social institutions are judged efficient, rational or productive not only to the extent that they produce money and power, but ALSO to the extent that they help all people nurture and maximize our capacities to be loving and caring toward other, generous and compassionate, ethically and ecologically sensitive, and capable of responding to the universe with awe, wonder and radical amazement at the grandeur and mystery of “all that is.” So on Rosh Hashanah we celebrate the creation of the universe, but also move toward a deeper practice of challenging the distorted economic and political institutions within which we live our daily lives.
That’s why Rosh Hashanah is precisely the right time to picket the banks and investment companies and Wall Street and their exploitative lending policies and incredible greed, and to envision a world that will catch up with this element of wisdom in our ancient Torah.
Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun Magazine, chair of the interfaith Network of Spiritual Progressives, and author of 11 books including Jewish Renewal, The Politics of Meaning, with Cornel West: Jews and Blacks–Let the Healing Begin, The Left Hand of God–Taking Back our Country from the Religious Right, and most recently Embracing Israel/Palestine: A strategy for Middle East Peace. He welcomes your involvement with the spiritual movement and your feedback on this article: RabbiLerner.firstname.lastname@example.org