WHO BY FIRE AND WHO BY WATER

A high holiday list that isn't really a list.
  1. Jews pray during the High Holidays about a lot of things, but chiefly about forgiveness so that we may be inscribed in the Book of Life.
  2. Traditionally this is a literal ledger God keeps on all the souls but more liberal Jews (such as myself) see this as an allusion to lack of agency over the uncontrollable events in life.
  3. My mom calls this the Bottle of Salad Dressing.
    The story is that no matter how many precautions you take, you can't plan for the bottle of salad dressing the falls off an over pass, cracking a windshield and causing a major accident. Her story is more elegant but you get the idea.
  4. I like the way it forces type A folks within the congregation to acknowledge that we will die and we can't stop that.
  5. Simultaneously it forces us to see that we will live, and our liturgy teaches that we should choose life regardless of the inevitability of death.
  6. The central prayer to this concept is called the Unetanneh Tokef, where we ask who will live and who will die and by what means.
  7. It is a haunting prayer and concept for a modern person but it has an out: through return to repentance, to working as a community and to justice we can influence the decree of God*.
    *This is my interpretation.
  8. This week saw hundreds of thousands of acres of California turn to ash, claiming billions of dollars of property, priceless memories and irreplaceable human life.
  9. We ask who by fire and we know Barbara McWilliams.
  10. We are finally seeing wide-spread coverage, regardless of why now, of the years-long refugee crisis born of the violent and relentless civil war in Syria, and it's horrific toll on children.
  11. We ask who by water and we know Aylan Kurdi.
  12. But we also know what we can do to temper these inevitabilities -- we must seek to understand why we were silent in the face of environmental degradation, ignored the plight of the defenseless, and as a community take action to influence events.
  13. We cannot save Barbara or bring back Aylan but we can influence the world -- we might not fix it all, and that isn't our duty, but we must work towards justice.
  14. As we Jews enter 5776 I pray that I may do my part to leave the world a bit better by dealing with those around me with more dignity and peace, that I have the strength to do my part for the larger struggle and that I may raise my still small voice for justice.
  15. L'Shanna Tovah u'Metukah - To a Good and Sweet New Year