A year of good changes

Religion, September 2010
By Rabbi Dr. Hillel Fox, Beth Jacob Congregation

Rosh Hashanah is almost upon us, and we feel a mix of emotions. The New Year brings us much hope and excitement, but also some anxiety and trepidation.

In the past year, we have seen an upsurge in antisemitism of global proportions and vicious and virulent attacks against Israel, even by some countries that have been considered friendly.

Let us, therefore, pray together at this time in the spirit of unity and faith this ancient Jewish prayer: “Tichle shanah v’kililoteha, tachel shanah ubirchoteha” — “May the old year and her curses end; may the new year and her blessings begin.”

As we fervently pray for a change in the mishaps and misfortunes that befell us, we must strive energetically to help ourselves as well.

Change in itself is not necessarily good or bad. It could be either. President Barak Obama ran a vigorous and incredibly successful campaign for the presidency under the mantra and motto of change. He promised a change in leadership with transparency, truthfulness, and trustworthiness.

He promised big changes in government, health care, and the economy. Judging from his declining national approval ratings, the American people are becoming disillusioned with President Obama’s promises for change.

The Hebrew root word for change is shanah, which also means year. Significantly, the greeting Shanah Tovah not only means “Have a good year” but also, “Have a good change.”

A wit once remarked that the only constant in life is change. It is our responsibility to ensure that every change is for the better, including changes in our attitude, our thinking, our conduct and our behavior.

Each of us must strive for self improvement, self betterment, self elevation, and self advancement. We must all strive to reconnect with God, our synagogue, our sacred Jewish teachings, tenets and traditions. These are the changes that will help us to preserve and perpetuate our beautiful Jewish heritage throughout the generations.

The story is told about a captain out at sea whose ship suddenly and unexpectedly faces a turbulent storm. Huge waves smash against the ship’s deck and begin tossing it about mercilessly and ominously threaten to sink the ship and its passengers.

Faced with impending doom, the captain orders the passengers to immediately lighten the weight on the ship by tossing overboard their heavier possessions.

One of the Jewish passengers on deck tosses into the raging sea his tallis and tefillin (prayer shawl and phylacteries). The captain was appalled and sternly reproached him shouting, “What are you doing? You are acting so foolishly. My order was for passengers to throw overboard heavy baggage and other weighty possessions, not your most precious possessions. These are sacred articles that are used in prayer to God, and they could help save us from the impending danger.”

When faced with a crisis, some of our people may also act unwisely and give in to their first impulse to throw their Jewish traditional values and practices overboard.

These are changes for the worse. Our forebears who have faced many a crisis in the past were able to rise to the challenge and hold firmly to their religious principles. With faith and fortitude, determination and dedication, and of course with God’s help, they were able to resolve their problems. We can do likewise if we demonstrate the same love and loyalty, care and commitment to our spiritual heritage.

Some people in time of crisis will display their funny bone, and others will display their jaw bone. What we really need today is to display our backbone.

Our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents have nobly and courageously given their blood, sweat and tears to protect, preserve, and perpetuate the Jewish tradition and its lofty ideals throughout the generations. It is our duty and responsibility to uphold it.

We pray that this Rosh Hashanah will be a year of change for the better, for ourselves, for our Dayton Jewish community and for Jews in America, Israel, and throughout the world.

May this be a good and blessed year for all. Shanah Tovah!

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