This is the final installment of New Year’s messages from area religious leaders.
The scars of anger
THERE ONCE was a teenager who had a very bad temper. His father handed him a box of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, he should hammer a nail into the fence in the back yard.
On the first day alone, the boy hammered 32 nails into that fence.
Gradually the son began to control his temper, and over the next few weeks, the number of nails he was hammering into the fence slowly decreased.
The teenager discovered it was easier to control his temper than to hammer those nails into the fence.
Finally, the day came when the boy didn’t lose his temper at all. He told his father the news, and his father suggested that the boy should now pull out a nail every day he kept his temper under control.
Months passed, and finally the son was able to tell his father that all the nails were gone.
The father took his son by the hand, led him to the fence, and said, “You have done well, my son, but look at the holes your nails left in the fence; it will never be the same.
“When you say things in anger,” the father continued, “they leave a scar — just like the nails left on the fence.”
Sometimes when we hurt someone the pain we cause can stay with that individual for a long time. As we approach the High Holidays, I wish for us to meditate on the words from the prayer of Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk (1717-87): “Let us see one another’s positive qualities and not the faults, and let us speak to each other calmly, with respect and understanding….”
I am confident that trying these methods will avoid the scars we may inflict on others when we speak in anger.
Rabbi David Amar
Congregation Ahavat Olam, Howell
Plant for the future
ON ROSH HASHANAH, we will celebrate the arrival of the Jewish year 5780. In gematria, Jewish numerology, the number 80 represents the Hebrew letter “pey,” the first letter of the word “panim,” which means “face” in Hebrew (in Yiddish, it’s “punim”). However, when we think of “pey” and, in English, the letter “p,” we now also think of two places where fellow Jews lost their lives.
We remember Pittsburgh and the 11 innocent Jews who were killed while praying at the Tree of Life Synagogue. We remember Poway, and the innocent Jew who was killed while praying on Shabbat. We ask God to be with those who were lost and to provide comfort to their families.
In response to these terrible losses, the Township of East Brunswick created a memorial at the Heavenly Farms Park. The rabbis of the town came together to dedicate a memorial stone, and the township planted 11 trees. To honor the victims of Pittsburgh and Poway, we took inspiration from another word that begins with the letter “p” — we planted. As Jews, we respond to great loss with an act of hope, an act that embraces life. We plant for the future.
As we prepare to enter the year 5780, we pray for goodness, health, and blessing. We also ask God to grant us perhaps the greatest gift of all, another word that begins with “p” — We ask God to grant us peace. L’shanah tovah.
Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer
Temple B’nai Shalom, East Brunswick
Stability in a chaotic world
IN THE BLINK of an eye, summer sped by and the High Holidays are upon us again. It is time to exchange our bathing suits for sweaters, our popsicles for pumpkins, the bright summer sun for the autumn leaves.
Much has changed over these past months: Our children have gotten older, we have experienced life-cycle events with our loved ones, friends have moved away or grown apart. Yet, no matter what happens in the summer season, we know that with the fall comes Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. These days provide us with a chance to reunite with our communities, to share in familiar rituals, to reflect on ourselves and who we want to be in the coming year.
Despite all of the changes in our lives, the Machzor, with its familiar and distinct prayers and melodies, awaits us. We settle into our seats and continue the serious work of repentance. This will never change. Our tradition will always prompt us to gather together, acknowledge our imperfections, and open ourselves to contemplating how we can be better, and, in turn, make the world a better place.
I hope that the consistency of these holy days can help to ground you and provide you some stability in a chaotic and ever-changing world. As our lives and the world change, I hope that this time of year can give you strength to live out the values of our tradition, to fight for what you believe in, and to fulfill the holy tasks of teshuvah, tefillah, and tzedakah — repentance, prayer, and justice — that this season asks of us.
May it be a sweet year, and may we all be sealed for much blessing in the Book of Life.
Rabbi Maya Y. Glasser
Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple, New Brunswick
Finding peace for all
GETTING EXCITED for the High Holidays never gets old. Even as we prepare for the next year, we have to take stock of the one we just lived.
How did we spend this past year? Did we live up to the best we know we could be? How did our care for each other work to heal the world?
Every year that we breathe, God blesses us with an opportunity to start over. We are incredibly blessed to have each other. Often, we need this opportunity to take a “do-over” with people we love but have wronged whether we did so with intention or not. We need each other. Tradition teaches us that we can only best appreciate this gift when we can be honest in our successes and failings in the relationships that we share. We must not hold grudges. We must forgive and commit to moving forward — even with second and third chances. Love is hard, yet it is the most cherished experience we can share.
This wish is my prayer for each of us. May this year see us working to heal broken relationships, forging new and bold ones, and working to be loving partners for all with whom we engage. It is time for us to find peace for ourselves and everyone around us.
If you have been away from the Jewish community for a while, come be with us. Share in our quest for meaning, for spiritual engagement, for a love that pushes us to transcend the malaise and pain in which we often find ourselves. Let’s ensure a better tomorrow!
From Monmouth Reform Temple, we wish you all the greatest joy and restoration through this season. Call us and let us know you are coming to services — we welcome everyone.
Rabbi Marc Kline
Monmouth Reform Temple, Tinton Falls
I VIVIDLY REMEMBER how thrilled my grandfather was to be honored with an ark opening during the U’netaneh Tokef prayer on Yom Kippur. Zeidi Fred’s face beamed as the chazzan led the congregation in reciting, “U’teshuvah u’tefillah u’tzedakah ma’avirin et roa hag’zerah.” These words may be translated, “Repentance, prayer, and acts of righteousness mitigate the severity of the decree.”
The Hebrew word “teshuvah” is often translated as “repentance.” According to Rabbi Micah Heyman, one way to better understand the concept of teshuvah is to think of it as a dance. Like the Twist, teshuvah involves twisting ourselves in a different direction as we strive for self-improvement. When we do the Twist, we engage with our partner as we make a connection on the dance floor. On the dance floor of life, a meaningful existence consists of engaging in authentic relationships, striving to connect, reconnect, or deepen our connections with the people in our lives and with our Creator.
Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik considered the act of teshuvah to be an act of “completion of the circle.” If you are traveling along the path of a circle, as soon as you start moving away from your point of origin, you are, in effect, moving closer to your origin. Eventually, when you feel you are at the furthest point away from where you started, you have actually returned home to your starting point!
When we engage in teshuvah, our aim is to return home in a spiritual sense. Teshuvah is a journey of soul-searching that emerges from a need to return to the origins of Jewish tradition, a spiritual homecoming with the potential to return us to who we are and who we are meant to be.
May 5780 be a year of connection, engagement, and homecoming. L’shanah tovah.
Rabbi Lisa S. Malik
Temple Beth Ahm of Aberdeen
IN SOME WAYS it is counter-cultural to join or stay joined to a synagogue, to invest resources in institutions that build community. We all know of family or friends who choose not to affiliate or who no longer feel the need to do so. They are just fine without the organized Jewish community for they may feel that the synagogue did its job with their kids and the kids are now grown. Voluntary belonging is a privilege of modern life. It is symptomatic of the many forces in modern life that are tearing away at the social fabric of belonging.
Lives are full, but in the quiet moments for those connected but not so connected, there may be times when communal ties do not feel as strong as perhaps desired. If I am being honest with you, I worry that some of our kids, let alone our adults, think of Judaism as an activity, not an identity. When the activity is over, there is no need for a synagogue. In truth, we attend because our sense of real grounding in this world is from our Jewish identity that provides us with narratives, morals, and rituals. They give us purpose and a connection with other people. Journalist Daniel Pearl’s dying words were not, “I played soccer as a kid.” They were, “I am Jewish.”
We all want our days to be filled with meaning just as we imagined our ancestors in their small, tight-knit communities. We implore in our prayers: “chadeish yameinu k’kedem.” “Renew our days in this time just as you O Mighty One helped our ancestors renew their own days in their time.” Help us feel that our lives are filled with the same meaning and belonging our ancestors experienced.
Rabbi Laurence P. Malinger
Temple Shalom, Aberdeen
AS WE MOVE through the month of September, we can’t help but want to savor every last bit of summer! We also look forward to the High Holidays in the fall. The last Hebrew month of the year is Elul.
The rabbis understand the name of month Elul to be an acronym for “Ani l’dodi v’dodi li,” “I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me” (Song of Songs 6:3).
During Elul, we are charged with examining our relationships. We look, with love, at where we need to grow and be better. The verse starts with the personal “ani,” “I”; it is telling us, “I am connected to other people and then they are connected to me.” We have to work on our own deficits if we want to grow, be, and do better. Helping others starts with us.
Yet we cannot forget the second part, “My beloved is for me.” God created people to be in relationship with each other. We must be for others, and they must be for us. It can be extremely difficult to ask for help. Yet, in the month of Elul, God is telling us that we must help others, but we also must accept help from others. Neither is easy. This is why we have an entire month dedicated to working on it.
In the season of the High Holidays, remember that God has created us to be with each other and with God. I challenge you, every day, to do one small thing every day just for you and one thing for someone else.
Rabbi Sara Metz
Congregation Beth Mordecai, Perth Amboy
Listen to the call
THE HIGH HOLIDAYS began late this year, on the final days of September. I know that sounds like a misnomer given that the Jewish new year always begins on the first day of Tishrei, but it is uncommon that almost the entire month of September goes by without a Jewish holiday.
I actually believe that is a good thing this year. We have been faced with so many challenges in our nation and in our world that we may have grown exhausted and overwhelmed by the events of the day. Whether it is the ongoing threat of catastrophic climate change; the tumultuous instability of the global economy; or the relentless threats of terrorism, nationalism, white supremacy, gun violence, and extremist agendas from both the left and the right, we Jews have our work cut out for us this coming year.
Each and every morning in Elul, the shofar (ram’s horn) will sound in every synagogue. As Maimonides posits, it calls upon us to awaken our hearts and our souls. Another year has passed by, and there is so much for us to do. Will we begin listening to the call this year? This will be the question each and every one of us must ask ourselves. God willing, we will embrace this new year with newfound hope and resolve to start the work of tikkun olam, perfecting the world, so that the year 5780 will be much brighter than 5779. This is the task that awaits us on the Days of Awe. May we all rise to the challenge.
Rabbi Joel Mishkin
Congregation Beth Ohr, Old Bridge
Wow! moments in the sanctuary
THIS PAST SPRING, a young child broke the silence at the end of a classical music concert with an enthusiastic “wow!” that echoed throughout the concert hall. The audience was charmed and immediately erupted with laughter and applause. Perhaps there is nothing like a child’s spontaneous “wow!” floating down from a balcony.
The orchestra director was likewise charmed and posted on-line that “the awe in this young child’s voice was one of the most wonderful moments ever experienced in our concert hall.”
If music in a concert hall can elicit an innocent, heartfelt, spontaneous “wow,” can we not bring about that same “wow” in our synagogues?
I believe, yes! But only when both sides of the bimah are intentional in making possible such “wow” moments. It behooves my side of the bimah to craft a worship service that lifts the spirit, enlightens the mind, and soothes the soul.
And worshipers, will you give yourself permission to let a prayer you’ve seen practically forever bring new meaning? Can you allow yourself to be open to a different melody or reading?
But don’t just take in, for prayer is not meant to be a spectator sport. Bring something to the game! As Abraham Joshua Heschel once said, “When you come into the sanctuary, bring some emotion with you; shed a tear, invest in a sigh.” Try to be ready for that “wow” moment. You never know when it might come!
May we on these High Holidays be blessed to find moments of awe, wonder, and joy in our worship services, at our holiday tables, and even when we have time to ourselves. At some point, perhaps you will want to float into the air a joyous, heartfelt, spontaneous “wow!”
Wishing you and your family Shanah tovah u’metukah, a good and sweet new year.
Rabbi Lois Ruderman
Congregation Kol Am, Freehold