By Rabbi Maurice Harris*, Rabbinic Cabinet

Teshuva, in Jewish tradition, is the process of moral self-examination and the “turning” from patterns of behavior or thought that cause harm to self and others to patterns that are healthy and good. During the High Holy Days, we focus communally on teshuva in our individual and collective relationships. The fact that we humans have the ability to change our habits – and that we sometimes do – is one of our great sources of hope. To believe that we can change even deeply entrenched behavior patterns often requires an act of faith. This can be a faith in a God or Higher Power who helps us change for the better, or a faith in the surprising possibilities of human nature.

It is that faith, which can be as simple as a willingness to act on a possibility, that we can draw strength from now as we continue to work for a different kind of Middle East during confusing and frightening times. Right now, peace seems elusive or even impossible. And yet, our tradition implores us to chase after it, to pursue it. Midrash (interpretive rabbinic literature) states that ordinarily we are expected to fulfill a commandment only when the opportunity arises to perform it. If you find a lost object, for example, then you’re obligated to try to return it to its owner. But you don’t have to spend your Sunday afternoon walking around your neighborhood looking for lost objects to return. But the commandment to work for peace is different. We are called upon to exert ourselves in the search for peace. The commandment is to “seek peace and pursue it.” This is understood to mean “seek peace” wherever you happen to be and “pursue it” if it is elsewhere.

Right now we are saddened by where we happen to be. The aftermath of war is where we happen to be. Civilian deaths by the hundreds is where we happen to be. A furious Israeli electorate possibly ready to run into the arms of the right wing is where we happen to be. An Islamic and Arab street cheerleading a man called Nasrallah who promotes shocking anti-Semitic ideas is where we happen to be. Never before in my lifetime has it been more important to realize that we must pursue peace because it truly is elsewhere.

“Who is mighty? One who makes an enemy into a friend.” (Avot de Rabbi Natan) We are a long way from this dream, and yet this is the dream I will not give up. Even this moment in history is pregnant with the possibility of teshuva – of turning and returning to a path that realizes our dream of co-existence and security for Israel, for Palestine, indeed – for all the children of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar. Let’s not lose sight of the outcome we’re working for, even in the pain of this season. The more we can point to the outcome we believe in – a two-state future with mutual recognition and respect, an end to occupation, and an accepted place in the Middle East for Israel – the more we can give voice to the shofar’s call to awaken to reality, to awaken to better possibilities, to awaken to a future all of us can live with.

Suggestions for Rosh Hashanah:

  • Share copies of the Brit Tzedek brochure with family, friends and acquaintances and bring copies of the brochure to the informational table of your synagogue if appropriate. You can see a copy of our brochure here. You can request copies by emailing

  • Send a High Holidays greeting card to your Senators and Congressional Representatives 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.

  • 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.

  • Consider what you as an American Jew can do in the coming year to bring peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Here are some ideas:
    • Respond to Brit Tzedek's action alerts.

    • Become involved in your local Brit Tzedek chapter. To find out more email

    • Organize a discussion in your synagogue, Havurah or home about Brit Tzedek’s work or issues related to its message. For guidance, email

    • Contribute generously in support of Brit Tzedek's important work in making heard the voice of the many American Jews who support an active US government role in facilitating a negotiated, two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

  • 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. Rosh Hashanah Resources can be found here and those for Yom Kippur here. In addition, Abrahamic celebrations has materials on Jewish, Christian and Muslim connections including those for the High Holidays.

    • Tikkun magazine's "2006 High Holidays Supplement" includes questions for reflection such as: “Did you involve yourself in any activity, or help financially support, Tikkun, New Israel Fund, Peace Now, Brit Tzedek, Progressive Jewish Alliance, Meretz USA, or some other Jewish group in which you believed? What held you back?”

* Rabbi Maurice Harris serves Temple Beth Israel in Eugene, Oregon. A graduate of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, Rabbi Harris has many Moroccan-Israeli relatives who live mostly in the Tel Aviv area, and he spent a significant part of his childhood growing up with them in Israel. He has been involved in efforts to work for reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians for over 15 years. Rabbi Harris is a member of Brit Tzedek’s Rabbinic Cabinet.

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