November 18, 2019

Contemplating the High Holy Days

The High Holy Days are an opportunity to reflect and contemplate. Now more than ever, we need to find a way to address conflict and division, both inner and outer. So the Journal reached out to more than two dozen rabbis from across the community and asked them what they think we need to hear over Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Shanah tovah.


Making Wise Choices

In Poland, I stood at a mass grave filled with the lives of 800 Jewish children. Tears poured down my face as I gathered my congregants and read the letter of a mother, making the choiceless choice of sending her toddler daughter on a transport out of the ghetto. The letter includes the mother’s hopes and dreams for her child; the whispered urgencies of a parent that leaves her child in the hands of a stranger, praying that fate will be kind. A letter saying goodbye. A letter sealed with love.

We never know how our choices will impact our future. On Yom Kippur, we must read the letters of our hearts. Think of the moments in which we have said, “But I didn’t have a choice.” And the many moments in which we can say, “I have a choice. And my child, this is what I do for you.” Dig deep within the crevices of your soul. If one day, you had to write a letter explaining the decisions of your life, what would it say? Would you be proud of the choices you have made or ashamed of the path you are walking? Will our children speak with pride or grimace, knowing we could have done better?
— Rabbi Nicole Guzik, Sinai Temple


Making Religion Relevant 

This year, I’ll be speaking to the fundamental question of whether religion has a real role in the 21st century and beyond. With declining rates of religious affiliation, there’s a real possibility that religion will become an increasingly marginal phenomenon. Yes, it certainly has played an important role in the development of our civilizations over the past thousands of years. But we cannot justify its future solely based on its past. What relevance does it have now? Rather than putting the burden and the guilt on people for leaving religion, I believe that our traditions must make a case for our adherence. It’s on religion to prove to us that it still matters to us as individuals and to our society.
— Rabbi Sarah Bassin, Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills


A Call for Jewish Unity 

In his inaugural address as Haham Bashi — Sephardic Chief Rabbi — of Jaffa in 1911, Rabbi Benzion Meir Hai Uziel articulated a grand vision of unity for the Jewish people: “It is my tremendous desire to unify the divisions that the diaspora tore us into, the separate communities of Sephardim and Ashkenazim. These divisions amongst us are not natural. Our particular linguistic and communal divisions were created due to our dispersion throughout the diaspora.” 

Later in his life, Uziel said, “I do not relate to any distinctions or separations between Sephardim and Ashkenazim. It is not the countries of Spain (Sepharad) or Germany (Ashkenaz) that gave us great Torah scholars, rather the Torah itself.” 

Uziel’s aspirations for Jewish unity are rooted in both the Sephardi and Ashkenazi High Holiday liturgy, when we repeatedly say: “V’ya’asu kulam agudah ahat” (May we bind together in unity). Some speak of a post-denominational Judaism. Imagine a “post-ethnic” Judaism. Imagine a Jewish community that blends the best of all Jewish worlds: Torah, customs, recipes, tunes — creating something new, dynamic, exciting and different. Ashkenazi and Sephardi join as one. It’s happening all over Israel. It’s time we catch up.
— Rabbi Daniel Bouskila, Sephardic Educational Center and Westwood Village Synagogue


Recognizing What’s Important

The most unsettling words in the machzor are, “On Rosh Hashanah it is written and on Yom Kippur it is sealed: How many shall pass away, how many shall be born? Who shall live and who shall die?” 

Whether you take these words literally or metaphorically, take them seriously. These words serve as stark reminders of life’s finitude. They heighten our need to live with greater urgency. They are essential to the High Holy Days’ theme of self-examination. When taken seriously, they help us prioritize that which is genuinely important.

“But repentance, prayer and righteous deeds temper the severity of the judgment’s decree,” concludes these potentially transformative words.

Here the machzor gives us a recommendation for life. It acknowledges the inherent uncertainty of the coming year (Who shall live and who shall die?). And yet, through repentance, or resolving to improve one’s behavior; prayer, or striving to be more at one with God; and righteous deeds, or helping the world become more civilized, all of us individually and together can make a difference. 

A life spent in repentance, prayer and righteous deeds is a richer and better life. I pray that be true for those in my Stephen Wise Temple community —  indeed for the Jewish people for this year and beyond.
— Rabbi David Woznica, Stephen Wise Temple


Acknowledging Our Privilege 

We need to talk about racism on the holiest day of the year. If we don’t face our internal racism and our unconscious racist acts, then we won’t be able to heal the wounds of our world today.

Yom Kippur is about taking a hard look at ourselves and our part in the web of life.

I realize that it can feel uncomfortable for Jews who have a history of being marginalized and who have suffered the effects of white supremacists, who explicitly and often violently exclude Jews to come out and say we are racists. You might be thinking, “How can we be [racist]?” But the fact is we are mostly white and we walk through life with a great amount of white privilege. What are we doing to welcome Jews of color into our communities and synagogues? How can we lift up their narratives and expand our tent? How can we be an anti-racist — to use Ibram X. Kendi’s definition — a person who expresses the idea that racial groups are equals and no group needs improving or developing, and is supporting policy that reduces racial inequality?

Our world is hurting. We are in trouble.
— Rabbi Michelle Missaghieh, Temple Israel of Hollywood


Inspiring Acts of Decency 

I plan to discuss the importance of common decency in our discourse and in our actions. “Derech eretz kadma letorah,” we are taught that common decency in our interactions with one another even precedes Torah. Words can be weapons of hate or comfort and they are ultimately within our power. 

I’ll be citing examples of both quiet and in-your-face heroism as well as the power of sacred memory to inspire our acts. At our Temple of the Arts, we celebrate Judaism through artistic expression and our unique Chagall prayer book contains a quote from the artist who declared, “The more Jewish we are the more human we become.” Our Jewish identity informs our human decency and each year we are afforded the God-given opportunity of setting the path for a new year of blessing.
— Rabbi David Baron, Beverly Hills Temple of the Arts


Responding to Life’s Fragility
We are living in a time of great uncertainty and rapid change. There are many threats to our sense of safety and security from school shootings to wildfires to the violence at Poway. What does our tradition have to say as guidance in this uncertainty? One piece of our liturgy, the Unetaneh Tokef, speaks about the many dangers present in the coming year and even cultivates in us a spiritual state of uncertainty — not to scare us but to motivate us to take responsibility for changing the things we can. We can’t control when or where the next wildfire will be but we can be strongly supportive of funding for our emergency response teams and coordinated efforts to provide relief and recovery for victims of the fires. We can’t prevent the next school shooting but we can be certain that our school staff knows what to do in such an emergency to protect our children, and we can and should be convening a national conversation on gun violence and prevention. 

We chant Untetaneh Tokef with its plaintive melody and haunting theme as a reminder that life has always been fragile and the Jewish response to that fragility is to appreciate the preciousness of life and to act to improve the world we all live in.
— Rabbi Amy Bernstein, Kehillat Israel


Using Our Time Well 

In “The Summer Day,” the late, great poet Mary Oliver writes: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” In preparation for the upcoming Days of Awe, I ask myself and you, “What will I do with my one, wild and precious year?”

What, in this year to come, will I, will you, be at the cause of? What will you author or inspire, give birth to or launch and let go? What mountain will you climb or relationship will you mend? What difference will your presence make in your home, your family and your community this year?

To inspire us, Torah illustrates this idea of being on a mission, being sent. God says to Moshe in Numbers 13:2: sh’lach. Send out one person from each of the 12 tribes to scout out the land of Canaan. God says, “Be courageous and bring back fruits from the land.”

At my ordination 10 years ago my teacher, Rabbi Arthur Green, the founder and now rector of Hebrew College Rabbinical School in Boston, offered each of us a personal blessing and each rabbi completed their remarks with the phrase from the Book of Isaiah, chapter 6 verse 8: “And I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then I said: ‘Here am I; send me.’ ”

The scene in the Book of Isaiah is one we know from the Amidah, our standing prayer where we go on our toes and say, “kadosh, kadosh, kadosh — holy, holy, holy.” In the Book of Isaiah, we read how God’s robes fill the sacred space and the angles flutter in awe. Then, Isaiah breaks out of what feels like a mystical trance and speaks these two transformative words: “Hineini, shlachani. I’m here. Send me.”

Every day, and especially as the New Year calls us to awaken, it is an auspicious and urgent time to powerfully take on the words of Isaiah and make them our own. So I ask you, what will you do with your one, wild and precious year? Tell me your mission for 5780 and how I can support you. To what quest or purpose will you proudly and eagerly proclaim, “Hineini, shlachani.”
— Rabbi Alyson Solomon, Beth Chayim Chadashim


Caring for Mother Earth 

A birthday is a time to reflect. It is a time to think about the past year and consider how we want to be in the year to come. Rosh Hashanah celebrates the creation of our world. So let’s reflect upon the Earth and the year past. 

From humanity’s point of view, it has been another great year. We continue to completely own this place and have once again proven ourselves to be the fittest such that the future for our genetic material looks good. Our numbers continue to grow and we are extending our domination of the natural world. However, for the Earth and almost every other species, it is has been yet another disastrous year. One million species were lost completely. Forests have been destroyed, water poisoned and arable land used up at eye-popping rates. And the cause of all this destruction? Us. Humans are the biggest threat to almost every life form and the Earth’s ability to provide a habitable environment. 

And yet such actions directly contradict our tradition’s vision for who we are meant to be. We are taught to believe that we are to tend the earth and till [it]. We are not just the consumers but the custodians as well. And we are taught to believe that we are to act now both for ourselves and the generations that follow. We have failed and failed monstrously. Now let’s consider what we must do going forward.
— Rabbi Jonathan Bernhard, Adat Ari El


Finding the Good    

“Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.” 

Mary Oliver wrote these words in her poem “Wild Geese.” Many of us are experiencing hopelessness and despair today. While there are many personal reasons for anguish, there is also a blanket of despair that covers much of our nation. The spike in anti-Semitism, the fear of gun violence, the suffering of children and the assault on truth, to name a few. 

Even at our lowest moments, we can learn from those who came before us. Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav, who battled deep depression, taught: Find a little bit of good in others and ourselves. Anne Frank wrote in her diary, “It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals. … Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

To counter despair, make it a daily spiritual practice to search out the good. It could be simple. Notice your blooming flowers, or be grateful for living in freedom, or your granddaughter’s laughter.

Create an ongoing list of all the good you see. Keep it next to you. Learn to hold both the joy and the pain.
— Rabbi Jill Zimmerman, Path With Heart


A Break From Politics
Soon, Jewish people will be flocking to synagogues, small and large, across the Southland. Many come to shul regularly and they are seeking a deeper understanding of the meaning of life during the High Holy Days. Sharing kabbalistic insights and fascinating Torah thoughts can accomplish this.

Then there are those who set foot into a Jewish house of worship only this one time of the year. These people present rabbis with a uniquely significant challenge of transforming the “once-a-year” Jew into becoming a twice-a-year or even a once-a-week Jew. The way that this is done is with authenticity. By inspiring Jews with the moral values and wisdom of Torah-true Judaism we touch their hearts and ignite their souls.

The overwhelming majority of Jews coming to High Holy Days services this year do not want to hear politics. No matter how important a rabbi feels a certain political issue may be, I believe it would be a big mistake to preach about it from the pulpit. People come to shul to seek spiritual guidance and not hear more of the politics, which have turned brother against brother and neighbors into enemies.

My hope for this High Holy Days season is that we are successful in turning our synagogues into sacred havens of spirituality free of political strife.

That is what I believe people in the pews want to hear this year.
— Rabbi Simcha Backman, Chabad of Glendale and the Foothill Communities


Odyssey of the Soul

We must engage in personal rebuke, to’che’cha. The depravity captured through the media lures us into action, and oversteps the need to first reflect upon our hand in this mess. Yamim Noraim, in name, acknowledges the fear element of these days. This 60-day practice begins on the ninth of Av by looking at our own brokenness. 

Without this, we are missing the essence that requires an authentic nullification of the ego. The High Holy Days remove us from the haughty tasks of ego, and demand vulnerability, culpability and connectedness to awaken us and turn to the understanding that one person’s transgression is all of our transgressions. Our singularity, called “humanity,” must be refined, one person at a time. Only then can we enter into action unified by a god-consciousness that is for the good of all. No red or blue, no liberal or conservative, just humans trying the best that we can. 

Open Temple’s 5780: A Soul Odyssey is a High Holy Days ritual lab that invites participants to engage in this work through ritual practices. We connect these timeless concepts within the machzor to our own personal soul journey as we are each asked to begin again.
 — Rabbi Lori Shapiro, Open Temple


Moving Forward 

The year 5779 has been difficult and, in the middle of all that we face personally, nationally and globally, we must hold on to hope and garner the strength to move forward, taking action for positive change. We must even celebrate the joy of living, loving and come to these High Holy Days both to reconnect with our communities, supporting and gaining strength from one another, as well as individually build resilience, by rediscovering the anchoring presence of the Divine. 

Firming the inner core of our being makes it possible to withstand and cope with whatever it is we must face. Rosh Hashanah is the birthday of the human so, through meditative moments, I will guide a rebirthing of the soul, connecting each person to the breath of the Holy One as described in Torah upon the creation of the first human being.

Feeling the gift of God’s loving grace we are reminded that we are never alone. Despite our fears, we can find the courage to face our iniquities, whether purposeful or inadvertent, mend and heal our relationships and be ready on Yom Kippur to be cleansed of the past, ready, with optimism and confidence, to enter a new year of potentiality.
— Rabbi and Cantor Eva Robbins, Congregation N’vay Shalom


Strengthening Family Ties 

Rosh Hashanah is supposed to be about creation writ large, and the creation of humanity in particular. However, the Torah and haftarah readings for Rosh Hashanah discuss family rupture, rather than creation. We read about a family breakup — the expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael (which occurred to Abraham’s dismay according to the Torah), and about the binding of Isaac, which according to midrashic anthologies brought about the death of Sarah, and a lifelong estrangement between Abraham and Isaac. 

In the haftarahs, we read about Hannah’s desperate longing for family, for children and about how we, the children of Israel, are akin, in God’s eyes, to a child who wreaks havoc, thereby making his parents’ innards turn inside out (Jeremiah). Why did the rabbis of antiquity deliberately choose these devastating texts of familial disintegration and heartache for us to read on Rosh Hashanah? In order to emphasize the foundational primacy of familial relationship in Judaism and the human condition. So that we make amends with loved ones before it’s all over, rather than fall prey to the false idols of ego and radical individualism.
— Rabbi Tal Sessler, Sephardic Temple


Questioning and Journeying 

We’re about to go on a journey to the deepest places. Here are some questions to ask along the way:

·   Who am I, and who is God?
·   Why is there a world? And what am I supposed to be doing in it?
·   Am I still growing? Or am I going through life imitating the person I used to be?
·   Are the majority of my prayers for myself and money?
·   When is the last time I had a heart-to-heart conversation with God where I cried?
·   Do I still believe that I can be the person I once wanted to be? And if not, what died inside of me?
·   Is God an idea inside my head? Or am I an idea inside God’s head? (And by way, God doesn’t have a head.)
·   What can I do for the world that nobody else can (even if it’s small)?
·   Should I continue to boycott God until He gives me what I want?
·   Do I believe that I have a soul that lives forever?
·   Does God know better than me, or do I know better than God?
·   Would I ever worship a God you completely understood?
·   Do I believe that God believes in me?
— David Sacks, Emmy-winning writer and podcaster


Making a Change

Every morally reflective person wants change in themselves. Many of us are not sure how to effect change. The upcoming Days of Awe, especially in the Chasidic interpretation, can give us that wisdom. In the Chasidic tradition, the word root Shanah, which means year, has another meaning — change. In the Chasidic tradition, Rosh Hashanah comes to mean the fount of transformation.

This year, one of our teachings at Ohr HaTorah will go into some detail on the process of inner transformation. The first step is to cultivate a relatively detailed vision of what we want to become. Our tradition tells us that our main goals in life should be righteousness (“tzedek”) and well-being (“osher”). Righteousness has to do with our moral character — how we treat others and how we allow others to treat us. Well-being has to do with our inner lives — finding goodness within and combating the forces within us that deprive us of that goodness. For the religiously oriented, a deep part of well-being and inner goodness is a meaningful and nourishing relationship with God.

With a vision for ourselves in the future, we can then work on mastering the will and skills for creating human wholeness.
— Rabbi Mordecai Finley, Ohr HaTorah


Summoning Courage 

In this time of fear and insecurity in our nation and our planet, I will be sharing about the need for courage, ometz lev. Yom Kippur is a day that calls out for courage of heart. Courage is a dance with fear and a strength of heart. I will share about individual courage and collective courage. 

These times we are living in require both: A conscious integration of the individual and the collective is a tremendous gift of the Jewish tradition. There is much courage (strength of heart) in Torah, Psalms, tefillah, rabbinic literature and the Mussar teachings of Rabbi Israel Salanter. 

I will draw from our rich tradition as well as the work of macroeconomist Paul Romer (“The Economics of Ideas”), author Toni Morrison (z”l) and the sermons of Monsignor Oscar Romero (z”l).
— Rabbi Susan Goldberg, Nefesh


Nurturing our Relationship With God

Every year, for one full 25-hour day, Jews across the world reflect and pray. That day is called Yom Kippur. On Yom Kippur, one’s fate for the coming year is sealed. As part of our deference to the seriousness of this auspicious day, the Torah requires that we fast on Yom Kippur. But Judaism, being the very practical religion that it is, prohibits us from fasting if doing so endangers life.

Seventy-five years ago, as Yom Kippur approached, the Jewish inmates of Auschwitz debated whether or not to fast. They were, after all, starving —  each of them hovering near death. Among the Auschwitz inmates was a teenager called Elie Wiesel, just three days shy of his 16th birthday. He later wrote of the debate he witnessed that day in Auschwitz. “The question was hotly debated … in this place, we were always fasting, it was Yom Kippur all year round. But there were those who said we should fast anyway, precisely because it was dangerous to do so. We needed to show God that even here, locked up in hell, we were capable of singing His praises.”

What I find most striking about this passage is the faith it communicates: Starving men debating about fasting on Yom Kippur as if their life or death depended on the outcome.

Elie Wiesel did not fast that Yom Kippur. In part, this was because his father forbade him from doing so. But there was another reason, he later recalled. He ate on that Yom Kippur as “a symbol of rebellion, of protest against Him.” For the young teenager, eating that day was not an act of denial, rather it was an act of faith.

Ultimately, Yom Kippur demands that we engage in a relationship with God. The greatest threat to our existence as Jews is if we abandon God and deny His existence. Our purpose, our mission, is to include God in our lives and to nurture our relationship with Him, making it meaningful in every situation.
— Rabbi Pini Dunner, Young Israel of North Beverly Hills


Learning to Love Ourselves, Then the World

I am looking forward to Yom Kippur this year at the Pico-Union Project, helping to lead Kol Nidre. We will do a deep dive into the themes of gratitude, love and hope through the lens of the Vidui, our confessional. Ashamnu, we have trespassed … Al Chet, for the sin … we beat our chests and concentrate on where we have “missed the mark” with the goal of self-improvement. 

However, with a focus on the negative, this can also lead to self-doubt, despair and a lack of trust in one’s ability to do good in our own lives and in the world. Instead, we will look at our confessional from a different perspective: how we can reinforce the positive. Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav teaches us, “Always look for the good in yourself.” The Torah teaches us to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” A condition of loving an “other” is to love oneself, albeit humbly. The sage John Lennon teaches us, “You can learn how to be you in time, it’s easy, all you need is love.” 

Through acknowledging where we have “hit the mark” and what we have gotten right, we have the potential not only to change ourselves, but to change the world.
— Rabbi Bill Kaplan, Pico-Union Project


Finding the Good in Others

The upcoming election, its divisive past and foreboding future has inspired me to rethink the High Holy Days. Our shul on the boardwalk is at the literal “ground zero” of free expression, yet the left-right divide has ripped through our community. Can we change the trajectory of this assault on the raison d’etre of our holy sanctuaries? The creation, through inclusivity and acceptance, of spiritual homes for everyone? Absolutely, and a radical new approach to the essence of this period can be our key.

A practicing lawyer, I read the machzor and I can’t help thinking how the term “time of judgment” sounds somewhat fraudulent. What court would allow a parent to adjudicate her child’s case and remain unbiased? Yet we audaciously proclaim “Our father our king” seeking special treatment every year. Is this true justice?

The lesson: Worry not about being judged, but how you judge others. Save impartiality for the earthly courts and be as unabashedly biased as God is when judging the words or deeds of others. Find the good and potential great that lies within all. Applying this, we will find plenty of praise for whoever occupies the seat next to us, in shul or anywhere else.
— Rabbi Shalom Rubanowitz, Shul on the Beach


From Despair to Hope: Rosh Hashanah Resilience

Our world is in a fragile state. You just have to look around us to see the world is on fire. Literally and figuratively. The Amazon is burning. Truth is under attack. Totalitarianism has reared its ugly head. Children are in cages. Anti-Semitism is palpable. You can taste despair with every breath.

When we sat together last year on the High Holy Days, we couldn’t have imagined Pittsburgh and Poway or the many violent attacks on synagogues and fellow Jews. Anti-Semitic violence is a growing menace. 

But now, in their aftermath, exhausted by the constant assault on our senses and our institutions, I see despair and sadness and grief creeping into our collective psyche. The despair is real. Each day, there is a desperate sense that hope is fleeting for our nation, for the planet and, sadly, despair eats away at many of us. 

On Rosh Hashanah, we imagine a new world; a world reborn. We pray to imagine a new way of being for ourselves. We pray for the chance to take all the brokenness inside of us and the brokenness inside the world and rebuild our lives and rebuild our world.

When we celebrate Rosh Hashanah with the sound of the shofar, we are being called to awaken our souls from the dark night that haunts us. Let the sounds of the tekiah lead us to toward renewal and revitalization. Its sounds remind us to persevere in the face of adversity.
— Rabbi Denise Eger, Kol Ami


Back to Basics

We focus on the theme of teshuvah — repentance. I think this year we need to focus on teshuvah as returning, as a reset. Holding in that pinhole-sized button to refresh the selves we wish to be, the world we wish to live in, the themes of our souls that can be drowned out by the cacophony of mundane living. 

This year, my thoughts, my leadership and my advice became reactive. Reactive to situations that leave people anxious, angry, destroyed or disappointed. Sure, there were beautiful moments of creation and joy this year as well, but if I think back to a theme, it was “reaction.” 

Wanting to maintain safe space for all voices of the political spectrum; wanting to hold close those who fear our spiritual home might be the next target; wanting to build bridges with open arms. That was this past year. 

So for the coming year, my intention or kavanah, and focus are returning to foundational tenets: 

What does it mean to believe in God? 

Choosing spiritual space 

A life of fear. A life of momentum 

Nothing is gone forever, only out of place 

I hope that we all have the opportunity to experience teshuvah and reset to our basics.
— Rabbi Rebecca Schatz, Temple Beth Am


Focusing on ‘Avinu’ and the Spirituality of the Parent-Child Relationship 

This summer, my husband and I were blessed to welcome our first child. As my parent-child relationship unfolds, I am reflecting on what it means for God to be our parent and we, His children. 

This message is built into Rosh Hashanah and applies to all of us whether or not we are parents ourselves. The liturgical language of “Avinu” (God as “our Father”), the Torah and haftarah readings, and the day celebrating God giving birth to the world, encourage us to reflect on being both God’s children who receive His love, and God’s appointed “parents” in this world who give love to others. 

And so, to deepen our tefillot, I encourage us to ask: How is viewing God as a parent informed by our relationships with our own parents? And how can God’s role as a loving parent impact how we care for others? Embodying God’s model may be tough, but it is holy year-round work. 

This Rosh Hashanah, as God’s children, may we be blessed to receive and accept love, even if we feel unworthy. And as God’s spiritually appointed “parents” in this world, may we give love selflessly, exercising sacrifice, flexibility and faith.
— Rabbanit Alissa Thomas-Newborn, B’nai David-Judea


Global and Inner Transitions

With the Israeli election drama unfolding and the presidential elections underway, there’s a lot of transition. According to the kabbalah, the outer world is an analogy for our inner world. Therefore, I would like to focus on how global transition reflects the inner transition of our teshuvah process. Change, compromise and conflict.
— Rabbi Shlomo Einhorn, rav and dean of Yavneh Hebrew Academy


Let’s Get Serious About Saving Lives

It’s widely understood in our community that pikuach nefesh, acting to preserve and protect a life, is so critical that it takes precedence over nearly everything else. If God taught us that protecting a life trumps other mitzvot, why are we letting down God so terribly?

Locally, 44,000 people struggle to stay alive each day on our streets, battling the cruel depravity of homelessness. Globally, 200-plus species will disappear this year, and all life is in peril of extinction as we cook our planet with CO2.

I wish I could deliver only good news entering 5780, but God wants a true accounting. We can’t fudge our returns when they’re sent to the auditor-in-chief. God entrusted us with the care of the downtrodden and to be stewards of the Earth, and it seems we are personally and collectively failing. 

So when we bow our heads, and strike our chest acknowledging our collective failings as a Jewish community, we each need to ask ourselves two questions: What am I going to do, and what are we going to do in 5780 to take responsibility and be part of the solution to solving homelessness and slowing global warming?
— Rabbi Yonah Bookstein, Pico Shul