L'Shana Tovah 5766
by Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf

We have asked Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf, one of America's most highly respected rabbis and a member of Brit Tzedek's Rabbinic Cabinet, to reflect with us during this High Holiday season. 
Rabbi Wolf has spent his life drawing the lines between religious imperative and social action, insisting in both word and deed that Judaism calls us to pursue justice on all fronts. Rabbi Wolf's teachings have played a formative role for many thousands of Jews including a number of us in the leadership of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom. We are very proud that he is involved in our efforts.
In the 1940s, Rabbi Wolf served as the American representative to Brit Shalom, joining other renowned Jewish leaders including Judah Magnes, Martin Buber, and Henrietta Szold in calling for "Jewish-Arab cooperation, as both necessary and possible." In 1949, he was instrumental in founding Israel's Givat Haviva Educational Institute, created to educate for peace, democracy, coexistence and social solidarity.
In 1973, Rabbi Wolf served as founding chair of the American Jewish movement Breira: A Project of Concern in Diaspora-Israel Relations. In its first public statement, Breira called for Israel to make territorial concessions and recognize the legitimacy of the national aspirations of the Palestinian people in order to achieve lasting peace.
Rabbi Wolf was invited to address the United Nation's 1989 Conference on the Question of Palestine, and he continues today to be an outspoken advocate for a just and tenable resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The only possible solution, he said in a recent speech, lies in "recognizing each other, and defining each other with not just the right to exist, but the necessity to exist."
Seeing his role primarily as that of a teacher, Rabbi Wolf has been the rabbi of Illinois's oldest synagogue, Kehilath Anshe Maarav Isaiah Israel, in Chicago, since 1980 (emeritus since 2000) and taught at many universities including Yale, where he served eight years as Jewish chaplain. Considered by many to be the finest English stylist in the American rabbinate, Rabbi Wolf is the author of several books. He is also a founding editor of Sh'ma: A Journal of Jewish Responsibility.

This is the holiest season of the year. Every Jew has the obligation to prepare for his or her supreme task, to do teshuvah (to repent), to turn from evil to good and from the burdensome past toward a messianic future.

We must all return to the original owner whatever belongs to that person. This might be misappropriated funds or occupied territory. If it is not ours, we must nonviolently restore it to its proper owner.

We are obligated to give tzedakah, that is, time, money and concern, to every needy Jew and to every survivor of a hurricane or a war. We give tzedakah at all times of the year, but it has a special mission during this season. Tzedakah heals our neighbor's hurt and brings us closer to divine mercy and forgiveness.

Every Jew is obligated to study at all times — but especially now — the sacred texts that we chant together on the yomim naraim, the Days of Awe. We cannot come unprepared and expect to enter the complicated world of the holy day liturgy. We must prepare ourselves to be forgiven.

Every Jew should visit his or her deceased loved ones in the cemetery or, at least, in the private recesses of his or her memory. I remember the political courage of my father z"l (in blessed memory) and the loving work of my social worker mother z"l, who cared for children, for families of soldiers, and, especially, for the orphans she nourished and protected. But each of us has memories that can inspire good deeds and not just sentimental nostalgia.

Every Jew must ask forgiveness from everyone he or she has hurt accidentally or on purpose. I have no question that I must ask forgiveness of my brothers and sisters in Israel and my cousins in Palestine. If there are others who read this message and whom I have offended, I ask their forgiveness also.

A king's son fled the palace and entered a dissolute life far away. Many years later, his father came on a visit to his new home and offered to grant the wishes of all that city's inhabitants. His son begged for his roof to be patched. He had forgotten that he was the son of a king and was entitled to ask for so much more. We Jews are all princes and princesses, but we have lost our vocation and our places in the royal family. On the High Holy Days, if we are well prepared, we may recover our place among the nobility of all the world.

Suggestions for Rosh Hashana:

1. Use Brit Tzedek's new brochure to raise awareness of our work. Consider sharing our brochures with family, friends and acquaintances and explore the possibility of displaying them at your temple. You can request copies by emailing info@btvshalom.org.

2. Send a High Holidays greeting card to your Senators and Congressional Representative urging them to support policies that promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Be certain to also mention your support for Brit Tzedek v'Shalom as a force working to mobilize the American Jewish community as advocates for a negotiated, two-state solution to the conflict.

3. In your Rosh Hashana cards and email messages to friends and family, include information about Brit Tzedek's "Gaza First, Not Gaza Last" petition campaign, including the website address, http://message.btvshalom.org.

4. When you recite the Al Chet — the list of sins prefaced by the words "for the sin which I have committed against you", — reflect on the significance of the tradition of reciting this in unison with your community and the responsibility that we bear as American Jews for "resolving the wrongs" of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

5. Consider what you as an American Jew can do in the coming year to bring peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Here are some ideas:

  • Participate regularly in Brit Tzedek's action alerts. Organize a discussion in your synagogue or Havurah about Gaza as a first step to a final status peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians.

  • Host or attend a Brit Tzedek house party in your community at which Israeli news anchor Chaim Yavin's documentary series, "Land of Settlers a Journey Log" will be shown. The series is based on Yavin's interviews over several years with Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. For more information, contact chapter@btvshalom.org.

  • Become involved in your local Brit Tzedek chapter. To find out more about your chapter's activities email chapter@btvshalom.org.

  • Contribute generously in support of Brit Tzedek's important work in making heard the majority opinion of American Jews in support of a negotiated, two-state solution.

6. Additional High Holy Day Resources:

  • Rabbi Arthur Waskow's Shalom Center has published a number of High Holiday resources related to the conflict which are available online. Of particular interest is the center's newest project, Sharing Sacred Abrahamic Seasons: God's October Surprise which celebrates the unique opportunity created by the confluence of the celebrations of the High Holy Days, Ramadan, Worldwide Communion Sunday, Day of St. Francis of Assisi this October "to pray with or alongside each other and to work together for peace, justice, human rights, and the healing of our wounded earth." After 2007, that will not happen for thirty years."

  • Tikkun magazine's "2005 High Holidays Supplement" includes questions for reflection on joining our ideological commitment to resolving the conflict with concrete actions to help realize this vision.

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