Posts Tagged ‘Rosh Hashanah’

This weekend marks the holiest time in the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur, when, after being called to atone for their short-comings for the year and make amends toward those they may have wronged, the year is closed and a new page in the Book of Life turns.  The time is spent in prayer and contemplation and fasting, and then, as the Shofar blows and more prayers are said, we are called to begin again…in love.

I was raised a Unitarian Universalist, but my father was raised as an Orthodox Jew by his Russian immigrant parents.  He was the one child, of six that Isadore and Tillie Weiner had, who married outside the faith, to a Protestant woman, Vera Racine.  Of all the children the six brothers and sisters had from their marriages (8) I am the one who was not raised a Jew.  My parents came to Unitarian Universalism together (they were the people whose faces appeared in national ads for UUism some years ago, saying, “We were looking for a church for the wedding.  We found a religion.”)

I love my faith tradition, and one of the things I treasure is that it allows me to bring my family and my cultural and religious history into my own faith practices.

Last weekend and this week I’ve been particularly fortunate, because several of my cousins (two of whom are Rabbis) have gathered, and I’ve had the time to be with them and celebrate our family cultural life.  That is a life that, last Sunday, included going to my own Unitarian Universalist church ingathering service, where the beginnings of the year were lifted up.  Our minister spoke of the end of Ramadan, the beginning of the new year (Rosh Hashanah), the start of a new ministry at our church, commencement of a new school year, all co-mingled, like the water we poured into one common bowl marking remembrance of our summer’s journeys.

I went home to host a brunch for my cousins of kugel, eggs, bagels and lox and whitefish, with family stories being told and re-told…a celebration of how our family of poor people, who came in search of a better life, made their way in this country and an indication that we, their children, still carry their stories and lives with us.  And at another family meal I made my Aunt Estelle’s brisket and we ate challah and honey — another family favorite — to remind us of our traditions and of the sweetness in life that we all wish for one another.

On the teak china deck in our dining room sit two photos that I look at every day:  one of my grandmother, Tillie Rosen, with her father, a Rabbi, taken (we believe) on her sixteenth birthday.  The photo was made in Russia, probably just before she boarded a ship to New York to start a new life and her arranged marriage to my grandfather.  In another small frame sits a photo of Tillie, a little older, with her husband, Isadore Weiner, a memento of their wedding day, around 1896, in New York.  I have only one other photo of Tillie – from the mid-1940’s — taken at the opening of her son Morris’ haberdashery in Newburgh, NY.  Literally nothing else of the life of my grandparents exists in my home but this…but the stories do live on.

It was my father who made these people — who died before I was born — live for me.  They were uneducated, but very, very smart, and full of wisdom.  My father’s favorite story was of his sister, Freda’s engagement party.  My father was a young boy when Freda became engaged.  His parents scraped together enough money to have a little celebration of the engagement (to Arnold Rosenberg) and my father was sent off from the family tenement with a dollar to procure a jar of mustard for cold cuts.  Arriving at the store he found gallon jars of Gulden’s mustard in the window…costing $1 each.  He bought one and returned home.  He remembers being ridiculed:  “You dummy!  Why’d you get such a big jar of mustard!  You wasted that money!  Take it back!”  He also recalled his father sternly asking him:  “Did you pay for the mustard?”  “Yes,” my father answered.  “He paid for it – we keep it!”, his father replied.  And so the maxim was passed on to me:  “You make a deal, you keep the deal…no matter what.”

Many people have cultural lives more blended than mine.  Our new minister, for instance, is half-Palestinian, half-American, raised in French-speaking Canada, with a partner who is a South African Jew.  It is this cultural richness that bubbles up from the melting pot that is America, and that makes us so blessed to be able to honor and celebrate our many traditions, and to learn the many lessons passed on from other faiths and other countries.

In these next days, as I take time to consider what the year ended has been like and to reach out to those to whom I need to make amends, I will be nurtured by the diversity of traditions present in my life, the ones that I bring to my family’s life as I pass on the stories and the celebrations.  May we all be so renewed for the coming year.

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Tonight is the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and the start of the High Holy Days.  Tomorrow, September 9, is the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting in the Islamic calendar.  Tomorrow is also — at least for some Christian groups — a National Day of Prayer.  All this occurs as the debate over whether to build a mosque and community center in New York continues to rage, and as a minister in Florida declares that, on September 11, he will publicly burn copies of the Qu’ran.

At a time when there is so much division and so much hate in our world, why would someone choose to carry forward an act of aggression under the veil that this is freedom of speech?  One’s right to speak is not questioned here…but an act of such condemnation and negativity will only stir more division; burning these holy books is not above freedom of speech, the act flies in the face of another major Right of this country:  freedom to worship.  Even our top Generals in Afghanistan have spoken out against the announced burning of Qu’rans, saying it will feed violence in the region and put our troops in grave danger.

Under the guise of knowing what is ‘right’ or the word of God, we can sometimes mis-step.  But can any loving God, any caring God — however that God might be defined — support such an act as burning the book that a major faith group finds most holy?  We have moved beyond the vision of “sinners in the hands of an angry God,” and surely, we must believe that God will hold and love us all.

In major cities, interfaith groups of religious leaders are coming together to affirm this idea, again and again, saying that the act in Gainesville which is proposed to commemorate a horrible day in the life of America is not an act that we support and affirm. Many more of us must take to the streets and public squares throughout our country, to join these faith leaders to stand, in these most holy days, on the side of love.  Whatever we perceive as having been done in earlier days, let us not meet such painful memories with more violence and aggression.

Today I had lunch with my cousin, a rabbi from the Chicago area, and asked him whether his son, also a rabbi who serves in the Boston area, would be preaching about these subjects in his sermons this week.  “Absolutely,” was the response.  There are lessons to be learned, there is an olive branch to be grasped, and there is, most of all, renewing love to be shared.

As some faith traditions prepare to turn a new page in the Book of Life, we have an opportunity:  to choose love over hate, connection over separation, and friendship and respect over condemnation and division.  Let us choose love, over and over again.

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