Rosh Hashanah Greetings From IJV’s Peace & Justice Rabbi

Dearest friends,

The Jewish new year is upon us! I wanted to share some reflections on Rosh Hashanah, as well as several wonderful online resources for Zoom services and gatherings for anyone celebrating the high holidays.

The essence of Rosh ha-Shanah is change – the ever-present, ever-renewing possibility of significant, meaningful change.

In fact, the Hebrew word “shanah”, which means year, is the same root as the word “shanah”, which means change.  “Rosh ha-Shanah” can be understood as “the beginning of change”.

The year now coming to a close has been one of terribly regressive changes – disastrous elections in Israel, deepening proto-fascism in the U.S., a global pandemic, worsening environmental denial, and so much more.  

And yet, the year ahead presents us with new possibilities for progressive change.

Perhaps the essential Jewish teaching about the role of humanity in this world is that we are partners in the process of bringing this world to fulfill its potential.  In traditional language, we are God’s partners in the work of Creation.  Agency for positive change is invested in the collective humanity of us all.

And each of us is empowered to serve a role.  In the Jewish story of our people’s origin, Abraham hears God speak, “Be a blessing! And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you.”  We each inherit that original charge to be a blessing if we choose to.  We each can be a blessing through which the families of the earth will be blessed.

Each year, in looking ahead, I draw inspiration from Rabbi Tarfon’s ancient teachings.  His metaphors seem quite a realistic description of our situation:

The day is short

The task is great

The workers are sluggish

The reward is vast

And the Master of the House is demanding.

A valuable balance to the despair that description can evoke is Rabbi Tarfon’s other teaching:

You are not obliged to complete the task; neither are you free to desist from it.

In this coming year, may we all find the ways to best engage with the tasks ahead to serve our roles in bringing this world further toward fulfilling its potential. 

This is the year that squatters evict landlords,

gazing like admirals from the rail

of the roofdeck

or levitating hands in praise

of steam in the shower;

this is the year

that shawled refugees deport judges,

who stare at the floor

and their swollen feet

as files are stamped

with their destination . . .

from Martín Espada, “Imagine the Angels of Bread”, © 1996.

And here, I’d like to share some resources and events for anyone looking to connect with Rosh Hashanah celebrations this year, either online, or in person (at a safe distance).

Our friends at the United Jewish People’s Order will be hosting online Rosh Hashanah festivities on September 19th (open to all), and you can click here to register!

If you’re in or around Montreal, come out to the Rad Rosh Hashanah gathering organized by the IJV Montreal student network on September 20 at 4:00pm in Jeanne-Mance Park!

IJV’s online chavurah will be holding the Book of Jonah sessions for the high holidays on September 23 (open to all) and September 24 (open to women, queer, trans, and/or non-binary folks only) at 7:30pm ET. Click here for details and registration info.

And as usual, the folks at Jewish Voice for Peace have put together a fabulous resource full of online events offered by synagogues and progressive spiritual communities across the USA. Click here for JVP’s high holiday resource guide.

Additionally, the New Synagogue Project in Washington D.C. are offering several online services over the high holidays, open to all. Get the info here.

While it is bittersweet to not be able to celebrate Rosh Hashanah together as we have in previous years, I hope you can find comfort and community in one of the events listed above.

Wishing you many blessings, and a sweet new year,

Rabbi David Mivasair,