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Voices to Inspire

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The Jewish Journal asked local voices to share a few inspirational words for the High Holy Days. Here is what they shared.

The post Voices to Inspire appeared first on Jewish Journal.

The Jewish Journal asked local voices to share a few inspirational words for the High Holy Days. Here is what they shared.

Rabbi Sherre Hirsch
Chief Innovation Officer for American Jewish University

Emmanuel Levinas, a 20th century Jewish philosopher, stated that with the coming of Elul, we are back to back with our fellows. But through Elul we begin to turn, to make tshuvah, to become face to face with the other. By the end of the holy days, we are no longer distracted by external forces. We are focused on that which is most important, the face directly in front of us. But Levinas assumed that both people want to turn. What if one turns but not the other? What if one needs more time? Then we are not face to face; we are back to face. Hence, some of us never turn. We want assurance that if we ask forgiveness, the other will ask as well. We want affirmation that our efforts are not in vain. Except real tshuvah comes without guarantees. Tshuvah is not transactional. If we are willing to turn regardless, we may find the ultimate transformation by glimpsing the face of the Divine. 

“Last year required innovation; this year requires stamina.” — Rabbi David Wolpe

Rabbi David Wolpe
Max Webb Senior Rabbi at Sinai Temple

Last year required innovation; this year requires stamina.  We thought we would be in a different place, but we have faith that we can create a time of holiness and meaning, connection and sanctity.  We refuse to be dispirited; we will renew ourselves and our communities and prepare, as we have for thousands of years, for both the challenges and the joys of the new year. May it be a healthy and sweet year for us all.

What do I need to release to be ready for this new year?
— Rabbi Laura Geller

Rabbi Laura Geller
Rabbi Emerita of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills

This New Year begins a Sh’nat Sh’mitah, sabbatical year. Sh’mitah means “release.” It is a year of releasing — debts, fields, indentured servants; these economic and agricultural changes remind us that all we have is lent to us. We need to release from our conviction that the privilege we experience comes from our own merit, and remind ourselves that we have an obligation to take care of each other and the earth. Laws concerning sh’mita raise questions about so many of the pressing issues of our time: climate change, economic inequality, food insecurity, the balance of rest and work, connection to Israel, justice and community. It also challenges us with deeply personal questions. What do I need to release to be ready for this new year? What do I need in order to be able to release what I ought to let go of?

Rabbi Adam Kligfeld
Senior Rabbi at Temple Beth Am

There is sanctity in doing, and saying and acting. We are a people of mitzvot, of positive obligations. And there is sanctity in not doing, in restraining, in choosing not to send that email, not to let those words emerge from your mouth. Our tradition exquisitely melds together the notions of proactive religious behavior alongside noble silence. Things and deeds we must say and do, and those we are prohibited from saying and doing. We emulate Biblical God, the Creator, by creating ourselves, with word and deed. And we emulate the Kabbalistic God of tzimtzum, of pulling back, putting less of ourselves out there than is maximally possible, to make room for others and for beauty we cannot create on our own. This year: make your mark by what you do and say, and also by what you elect not to.

Rabbi Noah Farkas
Incoming President & CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles 

Rosh Hashanah celebrates, among many things, the creation of the world.  What inspiration do we take from the world’s birthday? Before God was a Redeemer or Revealer, God was an artist. For six days God created life. God “spoke and the world came into being.” God made the invisible visible. But when God created humanity, God gave us a small piece of godliness, endowed us with the Divine Image. God is the first artist and you and I the first masterpiece. Which means we are a work of art. Over the millennia we have built and manipulated, cajoled and created anew this world given to us, often for the better and sometimes for the worse. Generations have bequeathed to us the works of their hands in the form of painting, song and poetry. Which means we are also artists at work. Art becoming an artist, the created becoming the creator; this is sacred cycle of life. As this new year approaches and we reflect on the work of our spirit, let us be humbled and inspired to fashion ourselves a new in partnership with each other and with God.

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Rabbi Daniel Bouskila
Director, Sephardic Educational Center

Upon celebrating birthdays, it’s customary to wish long life, until 120. Recently on my birthday, a dear friend sent me a message saying, “May you love until 120.” A deeply profound typo! On this upcoming Rosh Hashanah, the collective birthday of all of humanity, my wish is that we may all love until 120…and beyond.

My heart needs soothing with Torah tropes and the sound of the ocean at Tashlich and children laughing.— Rabbi Jill Zimmerman

Rabbi Jill Zimmerman
Path With Heart, Hineni Spiritual Community

The sound of the shofar in Elul this year is soul-disturbing. This year, there is no need for the shofar to “wake me from slumber” because I’ve been awake, alert and sleepless for too many months. Sirens of ambulances and fire trucks ring in my ears. The wailing of families having lost loved ones too soon is a constant drone. This High Holy Days, I long to hear the music of our people, the sound of the cello and the harmony of voices, even through my computer speakers. My heart needs soothing with Torah tropes and the sound of the ocean at Tashlich and children laughing. The shofar blasts this year — tekiah, shevarim and t’ruah — acknowledge the brokenness of our world and the deep yearning for renewal and wholeness. May each blast herald a new day.

Sam Yebri
Partner at Merino Yebri, LLP and Candidate for City Council 2022

What makes Yom Kippur so profound and solemn for me is how uniquely personal it is. Unlike the holidays of Passover, Sukkot or Chanukah, it is not about history or community. Yom Kippur is uniquely about taking stock of your own personal journey, not in comparison to others, but in comparison to your ideals. What have I accomplished with a gift of one year of life? Whom have I helped and whom have I wronged? Do I merit being written in the Book of Life for another year? These questions that we ask ourselves on Yom Kippur raise the day’s most important lesson: that it is never too late to shift course, start afresh, and strive for the ideal version of yourself.

Rabbi Ilana Grinblat
Vice President of Community Engagement for the Board of Rabbis of Southern California

I enter these High Holidays with mixed emotions. I am grateful to have survived this year and to be vaccinated for Covid. Yet, this joy is incomplete – as we now face another surge. Bleary-eyed from exhaustion, how can we see our way ahead when life feels precarious? A midrash offers the image of a mirror. Rabbi Harold Kushner explains: “The figure we see in the mirror seems to be twice as far from us as it really is. But with every step we take toward the mirror, the reflection takes a step toward us. So it is with repentance. Our goal seems so far off but God says to us, ‘Take one step toward Me and then another, and I will meet you more than halfway.’” As we summon the strength to wake up in the morning and face each day, let’s step forward, and God will meet us more than halfway.

Judy Gruen
Author of “The Skeptic and the Rabbi: Falling in Love with Faith”

Sukkot, which follows Yom Kippur, is the only Jewish holiday noted as the “season of our happiness.” Not Pesach, when we were finally freed from bondage, and not Purim, when God saved us from Haman’s genocidal plot against us—only Sukkot. And how can we be commanded to feel an emotion, anyway? Sitting in our fragile sukkahs, Sukkot reminds us that true happiness is never sourced in even the sturdiest material possessions. How often do we see people’s lives descend into miserable train wrecks after gaining immense material wealth? Sukkot reminds us that the only permanent “wealth” is our spiritual connection to God and His endless love for us. Happiness isn’t about having; it’s about values and attitudes. That’s why, even when sitting in a flimsy sukkah where we may be too hot or too cold, we really can access transcendent happiness, locally sourced in our unbreakable bond with our God.

What greater expression of love is there than forgiveness? — Rabbi Pini Dunner

Rabbi Pini Dunner
Senior Rabbi of Beverly Hills Synagogue in California

In a world that has descended into misery and chaos on so many fronts, our task must be to use the High Holidays as a time to reaffirm our unconditional love for our nearest and dearest. The concept of teshuva — the chance God gives us all to rehabilitate ourselves from a messy past — is an expression of God’s love for us. What greater expression of love is there than forgiveness? As human beings created in the image of God, we must emulate Him and show our love and forgiveness towards everyone in our lives. It’s time to drop the rancor and bitterness, and to come together in friendship and togetherness; together we can solve the problems of the world so that they don’t overwhelm us.

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Janice Kamenir-Reznik
President at Jewish World Watch

How incredible that the High Holidays mandate reflective introspection. Theoretically, by Yom Kippur, we understand our flawed conduct and are ready to repair the damage we caused through admission and apology; if we follow the playbook, we qualify to perform “tshuvah.” The underlying assumption is that everyone errs every year; the Holidays impose the companion obligations of introspection and humility. “If I did anything to hurt you this year…” is neither reflective nor humble, and is not t’shuvah.  Maimonides suggests that admissions must be specific and coupled with a commitment not to repeat the mistake. T’shuvah is not complete until later. When confronted with similar circumstances, one must not repeat the error. Whatever one’s level of religious observance, self-reflection, humility and t’shuvah are remarkable mandates. How brilliant that our forebears created these Holidays, prioritizing mindfulness and compassion in human relationships. Ultimately, these practices embody hopefulness, as redemption is always possible, relationships are always reparable and we can all become better people next year than we were this year!

“I ask our communal leaders to join me in acknowledging that we need to listen more. — Jay Sanderson

Jay Sanderson
President & CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

For me, the High Holidays is a time of deep reflection and teshuvah. It is very important for all of us to acknowledge our sins, repent, ask for forgiveness and commit wholeheartedly to learn from them. This is my last few months of 12 years serving as the President and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. I have been honored and humbled to serve this important role and lead our community especially during this horrific pandemic. I have tried my best but I have been imperfect. I deeply apologize to those who I have hurt and to those who feel that I have been unresponsive to their concerns and needs. I hope you will forgive me. Our community is struggling and more polarized than ever in my lifetime. I ask our communal leaders to join me in acknowledging that we need to listen more (especially to those we do not agree with) and lead with more openness, less self-righteousness and a recognition that we have a shared mission to build a strong, inclusive and flourishing community.

Rabbanit Alissa Thomas-Newborn
B’nai David-Judea Congregation

On Rosh Hashanah, Jews look backward and forward. But in 5782, many may be at a loss, feeling despondent. We stand before God with acute awareness of pain, illness, death and terror. Will this year be different and better from the last? The Aish Kodesh reminds us: “It is impossible for a parent to hear the cries of the child and not run to rescue.” He taught these words on Rosh Hashanah in the Warsaw Ghetto, not with naivete but as a prayer — modeling how prayer can be a complex blend of hope, gratitude and even challenge to God — reflecting everything we are. Uncertainty, loss and brokenness come with being human. As do resilience, repentance and salvation. On the birthday of the world, we feel our humanity with heartbreak and exhilarating joy. We yearn to be lifted, cradled and rescued by Avinu (our Father). It is this uniquely human prayer that pierces the heavens. May we have the courage to pray and live in this way and know lasting health, safety, normalcy, close embraces and welcoming smiles.

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Rabbi Shlomo Einhorn
Dean of School at Yeshivat Yavneh

The challenge of the Yom Tov season is that we view the process of teshuvah as too difficult. How will we ever be perfect? But we forget that angels weren’t allowed into the Holy of Holies, only a person of flesh and blood. G-d wants us present over perfect. And more importantly, we also forget what teshuvah is. It’s about returning to a relationship with G-d. “But I am so distant from Him; how is this possible to repair?” G-d is etzem hachaim, the essence of life. Therefore, we can never be distant from G-d. It’s simply about shifting our awareness to where we recognize that it’s not possible to be far away from G-d. This is the epitome of teshuvah, and the rest is commentary.

Andrea Hodos
Associate Director, NewGround: a Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change

The first step is listening. In Elul, the shofar wakes us up with a sound that starts at the narrow end, and emanating from its width, widens us and prepares us to absorb a broader perspective. We receive the Torah of Rosh Hashanah: of Hagar it says, “God opened her eyes and she saw the well of water,” (Gen. 21:19) and of Avraham, “Avraham lifted his eyes, and there was the ram.” (Gen. 22:13)  Moments preceded by deep listening expanded their perception and allowed them to transform danger into life. On Rosh Hashanah, known as Yom Hazikaron, the Day of Remembrance, we are reminded of the infinite nature of God’s perception and compassion, and we are challenged to expand our own. Listen first, and let that listening expand your understanding of yourself and of others. Let your listening allow you to see as much as you can, with as much compassion as you can muster: for yourself and your shortcomings, and for others and theirs. Together, let this be our path towards life.

Shawn Landres
Co-founder of Jumpstart Labs and an Appointed Commissioner for the County of Los Angeles and the City of Santa Monica

There is a point of no return in every trip. On our longest and most important journeys, there frequently are no landmarks in sight: the past is untenable and the future invisible. Globally, nationally, locally, personally, we find ourselves at countless points of no return, intersecting and overwhelming, as we work to mitigate climate change, preserve democratic civil society, repair racial, economic, and social inequities, bring the pandemic under control, care for our loved ones and ourselves and more. Theologically and liturgically, the 10 days from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur are filled with uncertainty; we seek t’shuvah, return, but there is no going back, and our collective and individual destinations feel more distant than ever. May the coming days and weeks remind us of our purpose, affirm our solidarity, and instill within us the momentum to persevere.

Rabbi Jason Rosner
Senior Rabbi and Executive Director Temple Beth Israel of Highland Park and Eagle Rock

We aspire and commit to change the behavior of the entire human community in this next year. We understand that we cannot live by the maxim “Plastics, Benjamin,” the planet destroying short-term pursuit of profit. We are coming into a Shmita year, a year to let land and people recover from exploitation. We can change the course of our species but it means setting aside the mentalities of individualism, materialism, and mass consumption.

Rabbi Elchanan Shoff
Beis Knesses of Los Angeles

Joy. If you owed a whole bunch of money and you had a chance to wipe the slate clean and be totally out of debt – it would be a great joy! You’d happily go to the few hours required to achieve that amazing forgiveness. The high holidays are filled with many emotions. One of the most important ingredients is joy! Happiness! It your experience of high holidays doesn’t include some spirited dancing and unbridled joy – it’s missing the main ingredient! God made us and he loves us and he wants us to get things right. And he helps us start over! L’chaim!

Elon Gold

I just hope this Rosh Hashanah is better. Last year I was dipping apples in Purell!

The post Voices to Inspire appeared first on Jewish Journal.

Source: Jewish Journal

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