Blind faith has never been the preferred Jewish way. It leads to false promises and masks what faith in Judaism is fundamentally about: living with uncertainty while still believing that things will somehow be alright no matter what happens to us in this lifetime.
This year’s High Holy Days theme, “Build Your Spiritual Endurance,” is conceived with each of you in mind, since we all need mental, physical, and spiritual stamina to make it through this pandemic — which we certainly will overcome during the upcoming New Year 5781. Endurance requires food for fuel and a positive attitude, but to be a Jew is more than food or a feeling.
To be a Jew is to live deeply and passionately, to struggle with life’s struggles, to stand up and speak up, and to embrace the core message of these High Holy Days that it is never too late to change one’s self and this world for the better.
The story of our namesake, Jacob/Israel, recounts the growth of a Jewish soul and the development of a mensch. Jacob starts out selfish as we all can be. He makes major mistakes, yet he learns, changes, and embraces the struggle. My midrash professor described it this way: “The story of [our namesake] Jacob is the story of defeat and renewal, of death and rebirth.
And through this process, the presence of God is felt.” Jacob, whose life is far from a straight line, will become Yisrael, which comes from the Hebrew root, “to make things better,” or “to straighten the curve.” COVID-19 has thrown everyone a curveball with ongoing suffering for far too many, yet this virus is not the end of the story. Life will go on, just as Temple Israel continues to thrive.
We are about to enter the most introspective, contemplative, and potentially life-changing month in the Jewish year, every step of which — whether indoors virtually or outdoors in person — offers us a new beginning and fresh perspective. This deadly virus is a reminder not to wait to express love to one’s family, ask forgiveness, and make amends with a relative or friend.
God’s continuing faith reminder to Jacob and all our ancestors is the same refrain: “Remember,” God says, “I am with you through it all.” God is with us, and we at Temple Israel are with you as we persevere and press on into 5781.
I am thrilled to announce that High Holy Days services and activities for this unprecedented year will be extraordinarily creative and dynamic. Our popular livestream services will feature meaningful video messages from members, live classical and contemporary musical selections led by Cantorial Soloist Happie Hoffman, and top-flight production — and not just indoors.
On Rosh Hashanah morning and Yom Kippur morning, we will hold live outdoor services socially distanced in the Temple Meadow at 9 am (weather permitting and with COVID guidelines observed, of course). Arrive early for glorious music, the sounding of the shofar, sermonic inspiration, all with ample open room for physical distancing and true Temple community.
L’shanah Tovah U’Metukah.
Rabbi Micah D. Greenstein, Senior Rabbi