The summer is at its halfway mark, and we still have another two months until Rosh Hashanah, but we can tell this is still a necessary time of reflection. Traditionally, reflection leading up to the time of atonement does not start until one month before. During the month of Elul, we are to take the time to account for our year, our missteps, our successes, and prepare for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. After all, acknowledging where we have gone wrong and dedicating ourselves to not make the same mistakes is not something that can happen overnight, but something that takes preparation, commitment andrecommitment.
During this time, we have other issues of great importance and possibility hanging over us and constantly in the news. I’m speaking of the non-stop news story known as the 2016 election. We have, after all, been hearing about it daily for nearly two years, but now is the time our choices matter. As I write this article, the Republican and Democratic parties have not yet held their conventions. I do not know what the fallout from the “Bernie or Bust” camp will be, or if “party unity” will prevail in either or both or neither of the camps. But I do know we are in a time of change, anger and something unprecedented. My Jewish values have led me to more liberal choices in my voting history, but this does not have to be the case. We see a do-nothing Congress, we see governmental corruption, and we see bloated deficit spending. I can understand a small-government, more conservative political choice. But with this presidential campaign, it is not that simple. People have often felt the need to vote for “the lesser of two evils,” so maybe this election is nothing new. But I’m concerned we are on the precipice of a whole new world.
OnYomKippurweread:“LifeanddeathIhavesetbeforeyou,blessingandcurse.Chooselife-sothatyouand yourchildrenmaylive-byloving,obeyingandstayingclosetoAdonaiyourGod.”(Deuteronomy30:19-20)Life comes from following God’s mitzvoth, death from disobeying.
I plead for us as a nation to choose life, choose diversity… choose to be welcoming to immigrants, as our nation opened its doors to my ancestors and yours. Choose for our government to sponsor no religion and for people of all faiths to be free to worship and be free from suspicion. Choose for voices of dissent to be welcomed as dialogue worth listening to and learning from, not to be greeted with violence or shut down with libel lawsuits. Choose for truth to win over popularism. Choose for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities to be themselves, to use restrooms in peace and marry in love. Choose life, choose expanding our definitions of who is welcome rather than contracting it. Choose for success to mean more than how much money we have in the bank. Choose for power to mean more than whose back we stepped on to get it. Choose life.
Choose for every life to matter, including the most vulnerable among us. Understand that the system doesn’t currently work the same for every person, whether the system is the criminal justice system, the education system, employment opportunities, or the banking system. We are not currently all treated equally; until we are, the American dream of pulling oneself up by their bootstraps is just a myth.
So I pray, as we enter a time of prayer, self-reflection and atonement, I pray we will be inspired by what can be, by what beauty, creativity, and prosperity the “other” can bring to all, rather than by hatred, xenophobia and fear of this unknown future. I pray we will choose life, not just for ourselves and people like us, but for all to feel safe and free. I pray we can stop the hate, stop the fear mongering and come to know that there is a better way.
As Reform Jews, Torah is not the final word on decision making, but it has always been a foundation. I pray we will find a way forward in this crazy new world we find ourselves in to “do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8)
Cantor Joanna Alexander