What a weekend this is in the Jewish calendar.
Last night, Shabbat began. For me, that meant attending religious services, followed by coming home to watch Stanford lose by 38 points in a football game. I guess that serves me right for capping a religious evening with football, but that’s how I roll.
Today, Shabbat continues. In the case of my family, it happens to be October 1st, the anniversary of my father’s death, so part of Shabbat will be spent at the King David Cemetery remembering one of the sweetest, most intellectual people I have ever known. He would be 104 years old if he were still alive. But he did live with his brain relatively intact for 90 years. I’d take that result given the choice.
Tomorrow, Rosh Hashanah begins. And again, for our family, it will be a special Rosh Hashanah. My daughter Hannah will be leading services and my wife and I will be heading down to Capitol Hill to be in attendance. We’ve seen her lead High Holiday services before, but this is her first permanent pulpit position. Hopefully, my spirituality will exceed my nerves. If not, I’ll have even more atoning to do during Yom Kippur.
Any weekend that contains both a Shabbat and one of the High Holidays is a special week. For those who aren’t familiar with my faith, Shabbat always comes around on Friday evenings and lasts an entire day, but Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur can take place any day of the week. Sometimes, one of them can coincide with Shabbat; sometimes, neither coincides with Shabbat. But this year is the perfect combo – first Shabbat, then a one-day breather, and then Rosh Hashanah, followed a week later by Yom Kippur. It’s a period marked above all else by contemplation. We contemplate the past year – the things we should have done better, the feelings we shouldn’t have felt or should have felt more, and the ways in which we did ourselves proud. And in each case, I do mean “we.” At this time of year, the Jew speaks primarily in the first person plural, not the first person singular.
This is also a time to contemplate the future. Are we hoping for more of the same and fearing that things can only get worse? Or can we actually summon the dream of a better time and place? And if so, will we (and now, I’m speaking in the first person singular) have made part of the difference?
I love this time of the year because I’m encouraged to do something that feels very natural: beat myself up. There, I said it. How unenlightened, right? But there’s something very enlightened about knowing yourself, and frequently feeling guilty is how I roll.
But my life consists of far more than watching football and being disgusted by my ample inadequacies. For example, I also spend time envisioning peace, working for peace, and enjoying the company of peacemakers. I do thank God for those impulses. And this week, they impel me to contemplate the life and passing of the great Shimon Peres. Perhaps more than any other Israeli leader, he envisioned a time when Jews and Palestinians can work together, learn together and love together. And yet, like me, he was also a staunch Zionist. He recognized that every family should have its own “home” – and because the Jews are folk as well as a faith, they deserve their family home as well. But that doesn’t mean that families can’t break bread, join hands, and commune with other families. Nor does it mean that the Jewish “family” can justify seizing and retaining substantially all of the land that comprised historical Palestine. Peres understood that.
Quite simply, Shimon Peres was one leader of the Jewish Tribe for whom the ethic of tribalism gave way to that of universalism. This weekend and throughout these Days of Awe, I intend to celebrate his example, his accomplishments, and most of all, his dreams.
And let us not forget that many of Peres’ “partners” for peace haven’t exactly helped him clear a path. Thankfully, his old friend, Abbas, was at the funeral, as were certain other Arab leaders. But the reaction to Peres’s death among certain other precincts was anything but warm. Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri said that "The Palestinian people are very happy at the passing of this criminal who caused their blood to shed...Shimon Peres was the last remaining Israeli official who founded the occupation, and his death is the end of a phase in the history of this occupation and the beginning of a new phase of weakness." An obituary posted on the website of Hezbollah’s TV station, Al-Manar, added that “To the West, Shimon Peres is the ‘Nobel laureate’ and the ‘tireless dove’ who has been widely respected for his ‘achievements’ regarding the peace in the Middle East. However, behind this image Peres, who died on Wednesday, represents the real face of the bloody and colonial policies adopted by the Zionist regime.”
The moral here is that peacemaking isn’t easy. Living a Jewish life – or for that matter, a Christian or Muslim life -- isn’t easy. In fact, as I learned last night, even being a die-hard football fan isn’t easy. Perhaps all this is best summed up by saying that being a passionate person isn’t easy. There will be plenty of pain, for you can’t hope to enjoy the ups in life unless you’re prepared to endure the downs.
But that’s OK – especially now. Because during this time of year, many of us have institutional support for relaxing, contemplating, and praying for a more enlightened mind and a more enlightened world.
From the Empathic Rationalist to all of you, may your year be filled with health, happiness, hope, wisdom, strength, and love.