Jewish Community Relations Councilof San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin, Sonoma, Alameda and Contra Costa Counties

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Reflecting on the High Holidays

September 16, 2015
Posted by: Hadara Stanton, President

I was walking through the Tenderloin the other day when a man started talking to me. He was telling me his story, how he had gone through some rough times in his life, and that now he really appreciated things like jazz, red wine, and good food. His parting comment to me was, “You need to live each day like it’s your birthday.”

Today is the birthday of the world.

The creation of the world, and the responsibilities of those of us who live in it, is a major theme of Rosh Hashanah. The period of time from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur creates and defines space for both individual reflection, and communal aspirations. We are given a set period of time to reflect not only on what we have accomplished in the past year, but also on how we have accomplished it. Have we been the person we strive to be? And because none of us is perfect, as we reflect on the ways we want to improve, we focus both on what we wish we had done differently in the past and on acknowledging our mistakes, as well as on how we’ll attempt to behave in the future.

Because the year is circular – like the round challah we eat – we go through this same practice year after year after year. But it is not just about ourselves. Like much of Judaism, the traditions of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, including the call of the shofar, promote, encourage, and indeed mandate that we do this reflection as a community. And by teaching our children as well, the opportunity for reflection, aspiration and improvement stretch far into the future.

JCRC, like these High Holidays, is an integrated mix of the individual and the collective. The Assembly is comprised of at-large members and representatives of the larger groups we represent – synagogues and organizations. We each come to the table representing ourselves, with our own opinions and perspectives, as well as those of the large groups with which we identify, and that individual and collective comes together to make up our JCRC, with our shared values. Our community is diverse in so many ways, and with so many opinions – far more than just the three opinions held by two Jews, as the joke goes. And it is that breadth, especially in the Bay Area, that makes our consensus process and approach so reflective.

Just as we as individuals are reflecting back on our past while we strive toward our future, so too is JCRC. This past year we undertook a strategic planning process that involved exactly this type of examination: What is JCRC? What do we want it to be? And how can we make that happen? It took longer than the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and was not accompanied by the trumpeting of the shofar – at least not yet – but it was comprehensive, enlightening, and inspired change.

Change does not become comfortable overnight, nor does it come without challenge. But it is important. Just as we, as individuals, do not want to be standing in the same place we were last year, without any new experiences, inspirations, or challenges, and without our history that makes us who we are, nor does JCRC. Instead, reflecting on the past, looking toward the future, and being mindful of where we are right now is an important part of the process.

As I reflect on the past, present, and future, I think about the people who make up JCRC, who instill it with meaning and make it happen. I think about the many individuals who sit on a committee, attend an event, make a donation, work with our community partners, serve as an ambassador, and provide guidance and support. I also think of the truly awe-inspiring “behind the scenes” work that the JCRC staff does on a daily and ongoing basis. Each staff member brings his and her own skills, ideas, strengths, and perspectives as individuals, and the collective result is an organization making an impact toward a just society, and strong and secure community here and in Israel.

This past year was full of challenges. As we head into these Yammim Noraim, Days of Awe, we are challenged to examine ourselves, and to strive to improve. Maimonides wrote that even one good deed or fulfilling one mitzvah can tip the scales of justice for both that person and for the whole world. JCRC is working hard to tip the scales to better the world, and we look forward to working with you to carry out that important work. May you appreciate each day as though it were your birthday, and may you be inspired each day as though it were the world’s birthday.

Shana tova and gamar chatima tova.

PHOTO: Ashkenazi-style shofar by Olve Utne.