As I decompress from the pressure of facing my diverse sins on Yom Kippur, it occurs to me that now it’s time to pause to appreciate my virtues, and the actions I’ve taken to improve the world for others, near and far.
As I sat in synagogue on Rosh Hashanah, my mind started to wander off. I was brought back from my reverie when the rabbi began to chant the Misheberach prayer, a blessing of healing for those who are ill. The soothing melody was one I knew well. It had been composed by spiritual folksinger Debbie Friedman, an innovative icon of Jewish liturgical music. The Jewish world lost Debbie at the beginning of 2011, but her music lives on in synagogues and at Jewish get-togethers around the globe.
When the late Rabbi Jehiel Orenstein of Congregation Beth El in South Orange used to visit hospitalized members of his congregation, he would tell them that he was going to include their names when he recited the Misheberach prayer from the synagogue pulpit on the next Shabbat.
Once, before saying the prayer, he mentioned to us, his congregants, that hospitalized patients always seemed uplifted by the prospect of this prayer’s being said on their behalf. They were perhaps a bit more hopeful than they had been that they would recover.
It was an honor to be part of Rabbi Orenstein’s congregation as he recited the prayer, and the congregation hoped for the healing of others. I felt a part of something larger than myself, a closeness to the pivotal Jewish value of tikkun olam (repair of the world).
The Misheberach prayer also captures my emotions because it asks not only for healing, but also that God, “the source of strength, who blessed the ones before us, help us find the courage to make our lives a blessing.” Who would not want his or her life to be a blessing?
This Rosh Hashanah, the soul-stirring Misheberach prayer transported me back to past Hadassah conventions I have attended over the years, where I and hundreds of other Hadassah members from around the country joined Debbie Friedman in singing her musical version of it. The energy in the room was always powerful in its metaphysical quality. We were part of a chain of history, a heritage that implored us to be a blessing.
Those Hadassah conventions, though, were not my first rodeo in this realm. The same sense of spiritual solidarity had captured me as a teenager in Young Judaea, when it was Hadassah’s youth movement. (It has since become a partner with Hadassah in promoting Zionism, strengthening Jewish peoplehood, and bringing more social justice into our world.) I remember how terrific it was when everyone locked arms and began dancing to the sound of Israeli Hebrew songs. We often spiritedly sang along as we danced. When others approached the circle, we welcomed them in with a smile, for we Young Judaeans were bound together by our joint mission.
Some of you may have studied Emile Durkheim in college. I remember being drawn to his philosophy and social categorizations, particularly his concept of social solidarity through which the members of society see themselves as a socially cohesive force, working together for common goals. His writings reminded me of my years in Young Judaea.
My favorite Israeli song — one that I have heard beautifully performed at Hadassah events many times — is “Al Kol Eleh” by Naomi Shemer. For me, one of its most poignant lines is “Al na ta’akor natu’a” (“Do not uproot what has been planted”). I lament that uprooting is sometimes inevitable, even though I would love to keep reliving some past experiences in their entirety. But I’ve learned that I can deconstruct the essence of what I’ve lost and find new experiences that serve the same purpose.
We all can probably “replant” an impactful experience in a new form and, perhaps, doing so will empower us to feel in synch with our values. The action doesn’t have to be grand. When, for example, as a medical writer, I spread the word about medical breakthroughs at one of Hadassah’s two hospitals in Israel, for those few minutes, I feel a part of something grander than just my personal life.
Being a writer enables me to put my insights and feelings into words and trust that, maybe, they will resonate with someone else and that, together, we will be linked to the larger community we call humanity.
Lonye Debra Rasch is a freelance writer on health and medical topics who enjoys yoga and book clubs. She and her husband Stephen are longtime residents of Short Hills, and they have two daughters and three grandchildren who live in Seattle.