But people change. I now find myself actually looking forward to the holiday. I welcome the time and space to think about my (many) shortcomings, my hopes for family and friends, my personal and professional goals for the year ahead.
I genuinely await the start of Yom Kippur this evening. There is a lot to reflect on, both concerns and blessings, particularly with regard to the state of the Jewish community.
On the challenging side of the ledger are a number of issues at the core of UJA’s work: I’m concerned about the accelerating divide between many American Jews and Israel, convinced that both Jewish communities will be considerably weakened if we continue to untether from one another. I’m concerned about the growing polarization of our local Jewish community and the increasing partisanship — both political and religious — around Israel. And I’m concerned about millennials’ declining connection to Jewish life. More broadly, what is the Jewish communal glue that will bind us more closely together? Once it was Israel, and I hope one day it will be again.
These concerns spill out on Yom Kippur, but so does the gratitude. Yom Kippur is an extraordinary opportunity to thank God for all our blessings. And so I reflect on what it means to live in the most prosperous and secure diaspora Jewish community in history. I reflect on the privilege of being alive in a time marked by Israel’s unprecedented strength and potential.
I reflect, too, on my personal blessings, which include my oldest son’s engagement last week to the woman of his (and our) dreams.
There’s a tradition on the Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, called Shabbat Shuva, the Shabbat of “return” or repentance, to listen to an extended rabbinic drasha or sermon. (I actually heard two wonderful drashas this year.) One, by Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, focused on the rationale for lighting a candle at the beginning of Yom Kippur that, unique among Jewish holidays, remains lit for the entire holiday. And that same candle is then used to light the havdalah candle at the end of Yom Kippur.
In brief, and without doing remote justice to the drasha, the candle is seen as a manifestation of the neshama (our soul) that is nurtured through our reflection over Yom Kippur. Notably, Yom Kippur is also the only holiday — apart from Shabbat — that includes a candle as part of its havdalah ritual. No ordinary candle, the havdalah candle is typically braided and must have more than one wick. The reason, Rabbi Soloveichik explained, is that these multiple wicks symbolize the need for souls to unite with one another, to be part of a community and not separate onto themselves.
As we enter Yom Kippur this evening, let us use this day of reflection to recommit to being part of a community that is as intertwined as a havdalah candle — one that brings light, hope, and beauty into the world —drawing us ever closer.
G’mar chatima tova to all. May we all be inscribed in the book of life.