Wednesday, October 11, 2006


Shana tova and happy 5767!

After a long pause and lots of life changes I'm back with more reflections on coffee, Judaism, art, public service, nonprofit management and life.

This year, I spent Rosh Hashana with my family at home, and Yom Kippur with family friends outside of New York City. The services in my home community are classical reform style; the rabbi leads responsive readings (birth is a beginning, death a destination...), the cantor performs opera-style with a choir, and the room is filled with many people who live Jewish lives only two days a year. My family friends' synagogue has a very different feel; the synagogue is traditional and egalitarian, and only recently affiliated, the cantor sounds old school and performs on his own, and as one of few synagogues of its ilk in the area, the shul can pull a crowd on Shabbat mornings.

Given the differences in these two communities I was surprised to find that the sermons I heard on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur were just about the same. They went something like this: "What's going on in Lebanon with the kidnapped soldiers is tragic. We haven't been doing enough to support Israel in her fight to defend herself against terrorism. It is critical that we affirm our commitment to Israel and the unity of the Jewish people."

Don't get me wrong, I do feel sorry for the families of the kidnapped soldiers, and for the families of any soldiers who risk their safety in violent conflicts. I also believe that Israel's existence is important, as a pathway to Jewish life, a site of Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Ancient history, and a safe place for Jews if the need arises.

That said, I was appalled that the rabbis I encountered this year deemed support of Israel as the most important moral imperative that the Jewish community faces, and that we face as individuals. It is true that the conflict in Israel has intensified in the past few years, but that is no excuse for us to frame our self-glorification as teshuva. As a community we have many more pressing matters to address: the fact that we've abandoned our religious and ethnic partners; our materialism, classism, and residential segregation; our reluctance to include the opinions of minorities in our community in policymaking.

As individuals our lists are even longer. We are selfish, self-centered and self-focused. We are competitive not collaborative, we talk more than we listen, and we act too soon and don't reflect enough. We don't make time for our loved ones or for ourselves.

My prayer for all of us this year is that we take the time to rise to the tough challenges and improve ourselves as individuals and a community. I cannot think of anything more important.

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