On Rosh Hashanah, the blast of the shofar is meant to awaken our souls, drowning out the noise of everyday life — at least momentarily.
During these days marked by ever-increasing polarization and incivility, that noise can feel especially deafening. It takes courage today to eschew divisiveness, to actively join others with whom we may disagree, to come together across the political divide to address our community’s greatest challenges.
And while the Jewish community in America has so much to be grateful for, our challenges are too great to stand divided. Growing anti-Semitism across the country — and in our own backyards — requires a concerted response. The need of the many among us living in poverty and despair demands collective action. Jews searching for meaning and purpose deserve access to a more welcoming, inclusive community.
“What binds us?” we asked a broad range of writers and thinkers. Their answers, which you can read here, are complicated — and beautiful.
For me, “binding” brings to mind the mitzvah of wearing tefillin — an important daily ritual in my life for over 46 years. In the biblical verse familiar to many of us as the source of the Shema, we’re instructed to love God and to teach the words of the Torah to our children. The text goes on to command us, in an allusion to tefillin, to “bind them [i.e. the words of the Torah] as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead” (Deuteronomy 6:8) — all designed to draw us closer to God and God’s teachings.
Similarly, the prayer we recite when putting on the tefillin commits us to God — and, by extension, to each other — b’tzedek u’v’mishpat u’v’chesed u’v’rachamim, “in righteousness, justice, lovingkindness, and mercy.”
In these times, this prayer powerfully resonates as a personal challenge to all of us. Can we begin the New Year committed to treating everyone — those we agree with and particularly those we do not — with righteousness, justice, lovingkindness, and mercy?
Each year, UJA creates a High Holiday publication, which you’ll find at synagogues across New York. As you read the writers’ reflections, we invite you to consider for yourself what binds us to one another — and what we each might do in the coming year to bring our community closer together.
May 5780 be a sweet and peaceful year for all.
Shabbat shalom and shanah tovah u’metukah.