A deeply ingrained hope

The Jewish people are a hopeful people. Hope, optimism and joy are hard-wired into our DNA.
Just look at the holidays in the Jewish year. I don’t have column space to cover every one. We can begin with the gift that we receive every week: Shabbat. We have an opportunity to rest, relax and indulge. Our food and drink are supposed to be better. We are encouraged to enjoy a different kind of time, guilt-free.
And consider Purim: we are encouraged to make fun of anyone and everyone; no one is supposed to take themselves too seriously.
Then there’s Simchat Torah. We are encouraged to gather as a community and sing, celebrate and dance with the Torah. 
Again and again, we fuse food, drink, music, friends, family and community for the sake of hope and joy.
When I speak of these themes, I must turn to Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. We are days away from the start of 5784. This holiday is infused with hope and high expectations for a better year. But at its best, Rosh Hashanah offers an opening of how to transform this vision into reality. That’s chutzpah; to think that I as an individual or as part of a relatively small community can affect positive change in our world.
But that’s who we are. These ideas and ideals are hard-wired into our identity. During Rosh Hashanah, we are to question the status quo. We are to reflect and find a way to get to a better state of mind and a healthier place to live.
Granted, we as a people may carry along our dark past. We are obligated to learn about our tragic history and the pain we have experienced through the ages, simply for being Jewish.
Yes, we teach about our martyrs. As described in 2nd Maccabees, we learn of the woman who witnessed her seven sons be murdered at the hands of the Seleucid Greeks for refusing to eat pork. We learn of the martyrdom of Josephus and his followers at the top of Masada as the Roman legion drew close. And how can we forget the staggering number of our people who died horrible deaths during the Crusades and the Shoah?
That being said, we never define ourselves as a suffering, martyred people.
Rather, we define ourselves as a people who on the one hand wrestle with one another and even wrestle with God. One of my favorite aspects of Judaism: I can tell God know how unhappy I am with God’s creation and offer my own critique about all of the suffering, pain, injustice and inequality that continue to exist. But after I have expressed my feelings, I know that my relationship with God remains intact.
We are allowed to fight, and we know how to make up.
Overall, we are a people who can find joy in almost anything. We have harnessed the power of humor: to make fun of ourselves, to respond to tragedy, to critique those in power and to laugh for the sake of laughter.
As Rosh Hashanah draws closer, we acknowledge that no matter how bad the year has been, it can be better; no matter how good the year has been, it can get even better. This acknowledgement requires a personal commitment: self-reflection, self-critique, accountability and reaching out to others whom we have hurt in order to heal.
But one of the Rosh Hashanah traditions is our obligation to hear the blasts of the shofar. Why? Because within these blasts are reminders of reality and our obligation to transform our reality.
The sound of “tekiah” wakes us up and forces us to focus on the here and now. The sound of “shevarim,” three drawn out blasts filled with pain and discomfort, remind us of the times we suffered during the year. The sound of “teruah,” the nine staccato blasts, draw attention to how our world is still broken by inequality, prejudice and injustice. 
But then we look forward to hearing “tekiah g’dolah,” the long, extended, unbroken blast ending on a high note. This sound presents the vision of a world that is whole, complete and infused with shalom.
In that spirit, Rosh Hashanah wakes us up, forces us to confront our personal pain, reminds us that our world remains broken, but encourages us that we have the power, individually and collectively, to transform the world through the power of shalom.
What an amazing message of hope. May we all have a joyous 5784.



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