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
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 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
- Respond to Brit Tzedek's action alerts.
- Become involved in your local Brit Tzedek chapter. To find
out more email email@example.com.
- Organize a discussion in your synagogue, Havurah or home
about Brit Tzedek’s work or issues related to its message.
For guidance, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 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
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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