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High Holidays 5778

Shofar Service, Rosh Hashanah Day 1, by Tikkun Olam Committee


In Psalms, we read:
“Sound the Shofar on the New Moon,
At the time appointed for our New Year.”

Sounding the shofar is a ceremony carried over from antiquity. Imagine that shepherds and kings first heard these same notes in the hills of Judea more than four thousand years ago.

Historically the shofar was a communal call, and depending on the blast had different meanings at different times. Some speak of the shofar sounds as a prayer without words. There is a longing in the human soul too deep to be conveyed in speech, which finds expression in the yearning notes of the shofar. The shofar, the wind instrument, is further said to symbolize the spiritual side of life. (In Hebrew the word ruach means both “wind” and spirit.”)

Tekiah was sounded to gather the Israelites at times of alarm and joy. It was a call to come together as a community.

A broken sound, Shevarim is the sound of suffering. It implores us to respond and work to repair the damage humanity inflicts on humanity.

Teruah was an ancient signal to the Israelites that it was time to break camp and move forward with vision and purpose in our journey. Let us consider it a call to move beyond the boundaries of our synagogue and reach out to others so that together we can move forward together.

And Tekiah G’dolah, the final long and uplifting call, is the call of ultimate hope and triumph.

But what does the call of the shofar mean to us in today’s world?

Milton Steinberg taught that the shofar is a call to hear the sound of weeping humanity, to feel the unspeakable pain of the world, and to resolve to stand up and make a difference against injustice and oppression. To look externally, not only internally, as we set our intentions for the year – what are we called to do, what changes can we make in our world. Historically, the shofar was a public call to come together as a community, and today it can serve that purpose again.

Please stand.

Shofar Blessing and Shehecheyanu

Give heed to the sound of the Shofar,
The sharp, piercing blasts of the Shofar

To remind us of the economic hardships facing so many in our community.

Open our eyes to the injustices around us—let us not turn a blind eye to the over 4,000 people without permanent homes in Portland; 1600 of whom are families who experience homelessness on any given night.

Give heed to the economic injustices that cause homelessness and create obstacles for people:

A lack of a living wage, which for many means surviving from paycheck to paycheck, deciding between paying rent or for food or medicine;

A lack of affordable housing, instead new expensive condos flank the city streets where too many homeless people lay because of rising rents;

A lack of affordable (or no) healthcare, often resulting in minor ailments turning into major illnesses with large medical expenses, and causing people to miss work and school;

A lack of affordable childcare which prevents people from seeking employment or remaining employed;

Systemic oppression and discrimination of communities of color who disproportionately experience homelessness and poverty, and;

Social service disparities, particularly for those with physical or mental disabilities and those with substance abuse issues.

Let us fight economic injustice.

Let us strive to help those who experience homelessness through compassion and care.

Let us be empowered and empower others to advocate for adequate social services.

Let us listen to better understand the experiences of those suffering homelessness.

Let us envision a community where no family experiences homelessness and where every family receives the support necessary to thrive.

Give heed to the power of the shofar to open our eyes and hearts to the soaring inequities that leave too many families without a place to call home.

Give heed to the sound of the Shofar,
The blast that is blown, O my people.

First set of shofar blasts

Give heed to the sound of the Shofar,
The shrill, quiv’ring notes of the Shofar . . .

Sounding its message of warning to our country’s unjust & destructive immigration policies

Its cry of alarm reminding us that our teachings are of welcoming the stranger

And that many of our family histories include stories of immigration

An awakening to the suffering of our immigrant brothers & sisters in the US

Witnessing detentions, deportations and family separations.

Urging us to resist all efforts aimed at criminalizing & persecuting our immigrant neighbors.

To combat this latest wave of anti-immigrant hysteria. For we know what it means when borders are closed, when fingers are pointed.

We are a sanctuary congregation

Pushing back against fear-mongering and hate

Pledging to stand in solidarity and walk with immigrant communities

We are dedicated to educating ourselves, building relationships, speaking out and taking action

The Havurah Sanctuary Committee hopes you too will hear the quiv’ring notes
Join us in this important work

Give heed to the sound of the Shofar,
The blast that is blown, O my people.

Second set of shofar blasts

Give heed to the sound of the Shofar,
The loud clarion call of the Shofar ...

When God created the first human beings, God led them around the Garden of Eden and said: “Look at my works! See how beautiful they are! For your sake I created them all. See to it that you do not spoil and destroy My world; for if you do, there will be no one else to repair it.”

As we sit in prayer today, our addiction to fossil fuels and overconsumption is feeding wildfires, decimating our salmon; species are on the verge of mass extinction, wars are waging and millions of people are displaced and dying.

Although many of us are paralyzed with the enormity of the problems, we must not be complacent while communities experience the unfathomable.

Right now, one of the most environmentally destructive fossil fuel projects in the history of Oregon is being fast tracked by the federal government. We can stop this by demanding that Governor Brown and our elected officials reject the Canadian backed 232-mile fracked gas pipeline and liquefied gas export terminal in Coos Bay.

As Rabbi Herzberg once said, “When the whole world is at peril, it is our Jewish responsibility to put the defense of the whole of nature at the very center of our concern.”

Today, as Jews, we have the opportunity to prevent further harm to our world and actively commit to repairing the damage we have done. Please join the Havurah Climate Action Team in making a difference in our world at this critical time.

We must give heed to the sound of the Shofar
The blast that is blown, O my people.

Third set of shofar blasts

The shofar blasts always end with a tekiah gedolah, a prayer for a better future, a message of hope, a call for freedom from injustice for all. Let us integrate that hope into our lives to help sustain our vision and strengthen our resolve that we can, through our actions, come closer to our ultimate vision of how our world should be.

Blessed are the people who hear in the Shofar
A summons to walk by the light of Your presence.

—Adapted from The New Machzor, and readings from congregants

 

Drash, Rosh Hashanah Day 1, Genesis 21, by David Lewis


When Diane Chaplin asked if I would be willing to give this drash, my reactions were pretty much as you would expect: a mixture of honor and terror. I felt utterly inadequate to the task, since there are many people in the congregation who are far more learned than I am. But in thinking about it over the next few weeks, I realized that we do things like this not in spite of being inadequate, but because of it. When someone in the community, usually me, exhibits something less than their most evolved behavior, I remind myself that if congregations were made up of already perfected human beings, we wouldn’t need them. Instead, we are Yisroel, the people who struggle. And never more so than now, at Rosh Hashanah, when we think about how we might gently guide ourselves back to the people we would like to be, both as individuals and as a community. One of the things I greatly value about Havurah is the presence of so many people engaged with considerable passion and intellect in questions of how one ought to live one’s life. It’s bracing. You hear a lot of talk about people who take what they are doing seriously without taking themselves too seriously, and this congregation contains a lot of people who manage to live up to that. So I’ll try to join them.

In reading through today’s parsha, I kept coming back to one figure, not one we usually focus on: Hagar. In Hebrew, Gimel-Resh is the root for “stranger.” So Ha-Gar is literally “The Stranger,” the ultimate outsider. She is an Egyptian slave. No one who has read or seen The Handmaid’s Tale can read Genesis 16, where Sarai tells Abram to sleep with her because Sarai can’t have children, without becoming queasy. Yet G-d does not treat her that way: their conversations are almost intimate, as when the emissary asks her, “Where have you come from and where are you going?” even though He already knows; it’s a way of opening a conversation, according to Rashi. Whereas for everyone else seeing G-d directly means death, she says, “Did I not go on seeing here after he saw me?” What seems to happen is that G-d speaks to each one from the place he or she is.

So in today’s parsha, Abraham is told not to worry, that Hagar will be taken care of. But not on her own account: we are told that Ishmael will be preserved because he is Abraham’s son; that is what Abraham can hear. Hagar is told nothing at first. She only knows that she is being cast out with her son into the desert with bread and a skin of water. She has every reason to despair. By the chronology of the story, he is an adult of about sixteen, and she has raised him to this point only to watch him die of thirst. She is at the end. She can’t watch, and so she sets him down under a bush and leaves, goes a bowshot away, and they cry separately, each finally alone and bereft. And then something happens. We usually read this part of the story as G-d having heard and provided a well. But that is not what the text says. What the text describes is a miracle accessible to all of us. It says “G-d opened her eyes and she saw a well of water.” G-d didn’t reach down out of the clouds and drill a well. G-d invited Hagar to open her eyes, and she took him up on it; the well was there. Anyone who has hunted mushrooms has had the experience of wandering in the woods, sometimes for hours, seeing no mushrooms at all, and then finally quieting down enough to see that they are surrounded by them and have been all along. Had Hagar not remained open, she would not have seen.

We find ourselves in difficult times, with a lot of work to do. We need to shift to an energy regime that takes carbon out of the air instead of adding it. We need to create an economy that does not give eight men the same amount of wealth as the bottom half of humanity. We need to build cities that encourage us to talk to our neighbors, and to have those neighbors be different from us. We need to painstakingly reweave the social and political norms that allow a civilized society to function. None of those things are easy, and many of them will not be completed in the lifetimes of we who are older. The invitation to despair is constant, as it was for Hagar. But our tradition forbids us the easy comforts of cynicism and despair. We are enjoined that, “it is not for us to complete the task; neither are we free to desist from it.” That does not mean putting our heads down and blindly forging ahead. It means taking what small joys and fascinations can come with the daily doing of the work. It means something else too. It means a certain humility, because we know that just as there are fundamental limits to what we can know about the position and velocity of a particle in the subatomic realm, so there are equally fundamental limits to what we can know about our effects on each other and on the world in the social realm.

During the Vietnam war, when people my age came to adulthood, a man named Willard Gaylin wrote a book called In the Service of Their Country. He was head of the Colombia psychoanalytic school at the time, and the book followed thirty war resisters through their prison terms. What he found was that the ones who had refused to serve because they expected to change the country did not fare well. They became embittered and lost their faith in nonviolence. The ones who did fare well were the ones who did what they did because they could not do anything else and be who they were. And in the end, of course, the country did change, the movement did grow, the war did end.

If I look back at the moments and conversations that changed my life, most of them were casual fragments in the middle of a workday that the other people involved certainly don’t remember. It was just that I happened to have walked through some light dusting of grace that allowed me to open up as Hagar did, so that something could take root in me when I needed it.

The work we all need to do is, for each of us, like forcing our way through a tight, difficult passage in a rock wall. If you are very lucky, once or twice in a lifetime the passage opens into a beautiful slot canyon where you look up to see a sky you will always remember. But that doesn’t happen very often and it isn’t given to all of us. More commonly, as you scrabble forward you knock loose a stone. Maybe it rolls back down the passage and lodges in a cleft, where it forms a step that allows the person who comes after you an easier time or lets them climb higher than you could. Maybe it hits another stone and knocks it loose, and then another and another. Maybe, long after you’ve passed, it starts an avalanche.


Achat Sha'alti by Beth Hamon


Click here to hear Beth singing her composition "Achat Sha'alti."

One thing I ask of You O God, this is all I ask:
Let me live in the shelter of Your house all the days of my life.

 

Shofar Service, Rosh Hashanah Day 2, by Andrine de la Rocha


Leviticus 23:24 reads “Speak to the children of Israel, saying: In the seventh month, the first day of the month, will be a Shabbat/rest for you, a remembrance of shofar blasts, a distinguished/designated/holy assembly.”

So, here we are, setting aside this day, these days, this time, distinguishing it from the other days of the year where we go to work, school, hang out in the garden, the gym, the coffee shop or brewpub. We’ve been prepping all morning, if not all week, if not the whole month of Elul, at least all morning for this part of the service – zicharon truah – the memorial of the blast.

In ancient times the shofar was used to call the people together for assemblies, and to give instructions to contingents of troops in battle. Today in Portland it is sounded to call us together, and to awaken us to our inner battle between inertia and interest.

The distinct sound of the shofar is both unique and familiar to those who know it. Its homely piercing cry may not be melodic or tuneful, but it cuts into the listener’s consciousness like an aural blade and stirs an adrenaline surge to action. Maimonides heard this message in the shofar’s notes: “Awake you sleepers from your sleep and arise you slumberers from your slumber. Search your deeds and return in repentance... examine your souls, mend your ways and your actions.”

As we hear the blast of the shofar, consider each of the calls as an embodiment of your path: Tekiah is the long steady note that says, “I’m here, I’m whole, I’m solid.” Shevarim literally means ‘broken’ or ‘crushed’ and is like a wailing cry as our hearts break when we realize all the ways that we have come up short of our potential this past year. Teruah’s staccato blasts act as bread crumbs, or bite-sized baby-steps, that can lead us back to the path we are meant to walk. The final Tekiah returns us to that solid, wholeness, the Oneness of All.

Please join me in the blessing in the middle of page 245.

"Baruch ata Adonai Eh-lo-hei-nu meh-lekh ha-o-lam ah-share kid-e-sha-nu
b-mits-vo-tav ve-tzi-va-nu leash-moe-ah kol shofar"

"Blessed are you, Ruler of the Universe, who has sanctified us with commandments and who has commanded us to hear the voice of the shofar.”

"Ba-ruch a-ta Adonai, Eh-lo-hei-nu meh-lech ha-o-lam
sheh-heh-cheh-ya-nu v'ki-y'manu v'higi-anu la-zman ha-zeh.”

We praise You, Eternal God, Sovereign of the Universe, for giving us life, for sustaining us, and for enabling us to reach this season.

Tekiah Shevarim Teruah Tekiah

Tekiah Shevarim Teruah Tekiah

Tekiah Shevarim Teruah Tekiah

Listen to the Voice of the Shofar! The Tekiah blast waking us from our comfort, complacency and cynicism. More compelling even than the sound of an incoming text message, or the custom ring tone of a loved one!

The broken Shevarim call, reminding us that there are shattered elements of the Divine in all things and it is our work - Tikkun Olam - to discover the Divine pieces and repair the world.

Teruah, a vibration like an earthquake shaking our core, asking us to stir things up, get out of our rut and make a change toward a higher calling. Teshuvah is to Turn, often interpreted as a Re-turn or going back, but let us commit today not to go Back-wards to where we’ve been but instead to Turn For-ward toward the path we now will walk, shaking off the past and setting our sights on the future.

Tekiah Shevarim Tekiah

Tekiah Shevarim Tekiah

Tekiah Shevarim Tekiah

Hear the call of the Shofar! Like a medieval trumpet fanfare Tekiah announcing the appearance of Royalty; Turn your attention to the impending approach of All-Encompassing Authority, the Unconditional Sovereignty of the interconnectedness of All Things.

Listen to the Shevarim cries of a Fractured Whole longing to be One again. Feel the sorrow of your infant self, separated from the Source of Nourishment and Nurturing that can feed and sustain you, if only you can Re-Connect with that Wholeness.

Pick up the Pieces of the Teruah bursts, the morsels that will, step-by-step, lead you back to the Connection that feels both familiar and unique, a stuttering blast like striking the flint which ignites the Spark of your potential, kindling The Divine that resides in you, becoming a strong and steady flame, roaring like the final blast.

Tekiah Teruah Tekiah

Tekiah Teruah Tekiah

Tekiah Teruah Tekiah

Tekiah Gadolah!

Ashrey ha-am yod’eh teruah

Adonai b’or panekha y’haleykhun

Blessed are the people who hear the Shofar,

Called to walk in the light of The Divine presence.


Welcome, Kol Nidre, by Ken Lerner


My name is Ken Lerner, co-pres of HS. Welcome to our services.
If you are not familiar, please have a look at our brochure.
Contains details of our programs in the year ahead.
Check out the displays in the foyer.
Many aspects of our T.O. actions.
It is an amazing sight to see so many people here for Kol Nidre.

This year I suspect that most of us feel a NEED to be here, to feel the community and spirit, because at some level we are afraid, and we need to feel that we belong somewhere, and that there is safety for us.

These are uncommon and challenging times. We can hear the anti-Jewish shouts in the streets and have a strong sense of what it portends unless it is stopped. And it is gratifying to see so many people around this country standing against bigotry and hatred.

I have been doing a lot of thinking about our being redeemed from slavery. We know this history, but we don’t just recount it on Passover. Slavery and freedom are in our daily prayers as an eternal awareness. It is this awareness that should compel us to see the plight of African Americans … and their own history of slavery … as one with which we should be able to identify.

There is, between us, a striking identity of history and interest in this story, but in the luxury of our privilege, as we recall our distant history we can easily lose sight of this unity, and of their more immediate and daily pain.

Until events like Charlottesville force us to see the truth ... that we need each other. The events of this time are a reminder that we cannot afford to be separate. We cannot assume that we are safe without an army of allies. So this year, in reflecting on my own shortcomings, I wonder if I have done enough to stand up and be counted.

Have I stood with my black neighbors? Have I reached out to help, or even to understand? Do I frequent black businesses? Am I learning enough about their struggle, and the ways that the dominant culture is a constant reminder to them of their oppression? Or is this is something I don’t have to confront, and can avoid acting on because of my white skin. How many knew that tomorrow….On Yom Kippur there is a large national March For Racial Justice in WDC? This is so ironic because we should be there, but the irony is that the scheduling prevents us from participating. Fortunately the March organizers took a tremendous step, one toward reconciliation. They publicly expressed their sorrow for the pain this caused their Jewish friends, and took this mistake as an alert for the need to form even stronger relationships.

And since Yom Kippur is a day for seeking forgiveness they are asking that we forgive them this mistake. And my reply is that I will accept that gesture I am going to keep those marchers and their struggle in my prayers, and I will resolve to meet their desire for a stronger relationship between communities.

One place where we are building such relationships is right here at Havurah Shalom. We have established ourselves as a consistent voice in the struggles of the day, whether it is marching for racial justice, standing with our Muslim friends and neighbors, becoming a sanctuary congregation for those threatened with deportation, helping the houseless, assisting refugees…

We are a strong progressive voice in Portland based on Jewish teaching and values all embodied in our work for Tikkun Olam. As you pray today and think about ways to re-dedicate yourself to good in the world, I hope you will consider supporting Havurah Shalom.

If you are a member ... If you are not a member, but thinking about it ... Or if neither of these options are not for you, we hope that you will make a financial contribution as a way to support these services and the important place we occupy in this community.

G’mar chatima Tova “May it be for GOODNESS that you are inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life.”
 

Kol Nidre Kavannot, by Deborah Eisenbach-Budner


Shabbat Shalom. I am Deborah Eisenbach-Budner, Havurah’s Director of Education.

Shabbat - and all the more so Yom Kippur - are Judaism’s invitation, and sometimes nudge, to stop and notice. Ultimately, that is what all of this is about, slowing down and noticing.

In that spirit, I would like to take this moment to notice and appreciate the spectacular work that Havurah’s Steering Committee, our volunteer leadership body, has been doing over the last 18 months. They have shepherded our community through a myriad of visible and less visible transitions and intentional changes. They have been working hard… taking stock of where we are and where we could be as a community, and as a healthy organization – and then the really hard work of taking action.

Whether or not you, as community members and guests, are aware of their extraordinary effort, we have all benefited greatly. It is not usually our minhag, or custom, to do what I am about to do, as Havurah avoids creating a machar culture (who is a big shot), privileging one kind of participation over another. So, I am sure that our ten Steering members are wondering what is going on.

I am going to ask each of you to stand and look around and see mirrored back to you … the thoughtful care, the thousands of hours of time and energy, and the painstaking stewardship that you have poured into this community. You have invested your very hearts and souls and we are witnesses to this. Thank you.

Kavannah for Tallit

With each song and each ritual, this evening, we are trying to draw ourselves into one place, concretely and figuratively,
one place where we can bear witness to the truth of our lives
and bear to witness the truth of our lives.
Please give yourself a moment to sanctify the space that you inhabit right now. If you have a tallit, you can use that.
Or try another way of your choosing.

Kavannah for Tov l’hodot and Shabbat Joy

Being in Yom Kippur and Shabbat at the same time can be a bit dizzying.

Am I solemn and inwardly directed, opening to all the difficulty that resides within? Doing Tshuvah.

Or am I cultivating joy and appreciation, celebrating Shabbat? Well, of course, the answer is both.

And it is good practice for real life, right, in which we are so often stretched to experience joy and loss or sadness at the very same time.

Let’s try to stay open to both as we sing Tov l’Hodot, a psalm of thanksgiving that marks Shabbat.

Let’s focus on what we are grateful for, letting our voices carry aloft our thanks.

***

We are also attuning ourselves to the process of Listening, which is at the core of the Shema prayers that will follow. We invite you to add or amplify your voice if something that I say resonates with you, joining Benjamin in song. We also hope that you will listen with all your heart and all your soul and all your might, enabling each of us to bring our whole selves to this moment, together.

Please add your voice if you are trying to find a sense of home or looking to feel at home in your life.

Please add your voice if you feel let down by your body.

Please add your voice if your relationship with Judaism or Jewish community is painful.

Please add your voice if you feel judged in your parenting, by others who have very little understanding of what you or your child struggle with.

Please add your voice if you or a loved one deal with an illness that is invisible to others but very impactful for you.

Please add your voice if your life is curtailed by fear.

Please add your voice if your life has been affected by physical trespass and humiliation.

Please add your voice if systems of oppression have stifled your voice.

Please add your voice if you struggle with your privilege but you don’t know what to do about it or are scared to do what you know needs to be done.

Please add your voice if you despair over the future of our earth.

Please add your voice if you come to this moment with the feeling that you have lost your way.

We bless you, the one who mixes the mixed times.
With wisdom you create day and night,
rolling the darkness before the light and the light before the darkness.
You, who loves us with the love of the whole world,
teaches us how to live,
gives us Torah.
We bless you.

***

We stop and take this time out of our lives
To study the traps
we find ourselves in
due to
our impatience,
our fear,
our stubbornness.

We stop and take this time out of our lives
To attend to our current limitations,
The ways we impact others with
Our unconsidered words,
our thoughtless deeds,
our selfish intentions.

We stop and take this time out of our lives
To contemplate the times
we deprive the world of
our love,
our compassion,
our hopefulness.

We stop and take this time out of our lives
To dare to imagine ourselves
More steady
More joyous
More whole.

We stop and take this time out of our lives
To become honest and loving witnesses to our own vulnerabilities.
We are vulnerable in our yearning to change,
We are vulnerable in our striving to stay the same.
We are vulnerable in our confrontation with our ultimate limitation – the finite time that we have here on this earth.

Together, we stop.

We make ourselves vulnerable in our bodies and our souls so that we can come clean.
So that we can be purified.
So that we can begin again.
We stop and take this time out of our lives
So that we may become
More fully in our lives.

13 Attributes

As clay in the hands of the potter,
Who thickens and thins it - at will,
So we are in your hands.

As iron in the hand of the smith,
Who plunges it into fire or takes it out - at will,
So we are in your hands.

As cloth in the hands of the embroiderer,
Who gathers it up or flattens it out - at will,
So we are in your hands.

Let love preserve;
Look to your covenant,
Do not turn to anger.

Ya'aleh

Yes, Yom Kippur is a solemn time.
But it is also a joyous holiday.
We reflect on our mistakes and missteps,
but only in order to commit to the prospect of change,
to the possibility of purification as a pathway to renewal.

The Ya’aleh prayer and song says:

"May our voices rise in yearning prayer at nightfall---
And on the morrow, may our exaltation come at dusk.”

May we all find a renewed sense of purpose, the potential for joy, and a promise to work together.
 

Kol Nidre Poem by Deborah Eisenbach-Budner


What is Yom Kippur? Kol Nidrei Meditation on VaYikra (Leviticus) 16:30-31.

For on this / particular day
Atonement / will be made for you all / to purify / you
From all / your wrongdoings.
In the presence of / Adonai
You will purified and cleansed.
A stopping time / Of all stopping times / It is / for you,
And you shall make yourselves vulnerable / In your bodies and souls
It is a law / for all time and all space.

We stop and take this time out of our lives
To study the traps
we find ourselves in
due to
our impatience,
our fear,
our stubbornness.

We stop and take this time out of our lives
To attend to our current limitations,
The ways we impact others with
Our unconsidered words,
our thoughtless deeds,
our selfish intentions.

We stop and take this time out of our lives
To contemplate the times
we deprive the world of
our love,
our compassion,
our hopefulness.

We stop and take this time out of our lives
To dare to imagine ourselves
More steady
More joyous
More whole.

We stop and take this time out of our lives
To become honest and loving witnesses to our own vulnerabilities.
We are vulnerable in our yearning to change,
We are vulnerable in our striving to stay the same.
We are vulnerable in our confrontation with our ultimate limitation – the finite time that we have here on this earth.

Together, we stop.

We make ourselves vulnerable in our bodies and our souls so that we can come clean.
So that we can be purified.
So that we can begin again.
We stop and take this time out of our lives
So that we may become
More fully in our lives.
 

Al Cheit by Karen and Matreya Barnett


Both: “For all of these wrong-doings, O God of Forgiveness, forgive us, pardon us and grant us atonement.”

For failing to take the first step when the way ahead seems unclear
For not taking on challenges

For caring more about being right than being kind
For caring too much about little things

For my oversized footprint on this beautiful, hurting planet
For leaving the lights on

For tuning out the little voice inside me that tells me to hold my tongue
For not raising my hand in class because I am afraid to make mistakes

For tuning out the little voice inside me that tells me to speak up
For not speaking up and out often enough

For failing to appreciate the miraculous gift of health
For taking what I have for granted

For not stopping to connect and appreciate the gift of my child or spouse returning home
For not appreciating that I have a home and loving parents to return to each day

For all the times I yelled or raised my voice
For the times I slammed my bedroom door

For the times I fired off a quick text at a red light or glanced at one while driving
For texting too much

For letting the immediate and urgent replace the important -- so often I fail to see the difference between the two
For not prioritizing time to do what’s important

For not stopping to take a breath
For not seeing the big picture when I feel overwhelmed and taking it out on those around me instead

For the times when discomfort or awkwardness prevents me from doing what I can to help
For the times when I judge others without getting to know them first

For treating my family members’ mistakes and imperfections as moral failings
For getting getting angry at my brothers

For my perfectionism -- for not being compassionate with myself
For taking on too much at a time

For spending too much time on my phone or distracted by the endless internet
For spending too much time on Instagram

For not practicing what I preach
For making promises I don’t keep

For collapsing instead of nurturing myself
For overthinking things

For not building enough time with nature into our lives
For wanting to hang out with friends instead of my family

For not always owning my privilege
For not being more thankful for what I have

For caring more about people in far away places than in my own neighborhood
For not trying to find out how I can help other people

For vilifying a huge swath of this country for their political beliefs
For dismissing anyone who doesn’t agree with me

For not giving all the tzedakah I could give
For when I spend my extra dollar on useless junk instead of charity

For not talking to my kids enough about race and for believing I am color blind
For crossing the street

For caring more about cleanliness than creativity
For being a neat freak

For worrying as if worrying itself were important
For borrowing tomorrow’s trouble

For not living every day in the realization that I am fortunate and blessed beyond measure.
For not realizing that I have enough

“For all of these and for all our wrong-doings, O God of Forgiveness, forgive us, pardon us and grant us atonement.”
 

Yom Kippur Drash by Tamir Eisenbach-Budner
 

Shannah Tovah. It’s an honor to be up here in front of all of you. I also find it kind of funny. Last week when I was in this room, on Rosh Hashanah, there was a moment where I wanted nothing more than to disappear from your sight. What happened was, I made a little mistake. It was during the height of the Torah service, when the leader chants the Shemah prayers and the congregation repeats. I was singing along wholeheartedly when I realized that my voice was louder than the rest, in fact, it was the only voice, except for the leader. I had accidentally sang his part instead of singing along with everyone else. Immediately, I judged myself through your eyes. Who I imagined you saw me as was a pretentious, attention-seeking guy who chose to hijack the service because he thought he was so superior to the rest of the congregation that he deserved to be up on the Bimah in place of the leader. Of course, I’m sure none of you were thinking that about me. If you even noticed my slip-up at all, you probably saw me as a guy who made a harmless mistake in his eagerness to participate. During that moment, my inner monologue was obsessive, negative and simply not rational. This is an example of a time when our propensity for self-judgement can be totally unhelpful, and can even hold us back.

But on the other hand, self-critique is necessary. Without evaluating ourselves critically, how could we filter out our bad jokes before we blurt them out? How could we learn from our mistakes? Would we feel guilt when we hurt somebody? Self-judgement is perhaps most important right here and right now, on Yom Kippur. Starting on Rosh Hashanah and culminating tonight at sundown, our primary purpose is to do Teshuvah. Teshuvah is translated as repentance. At its root it means “to return”; whether that means to return to God, or to return to your best self, the idea is that we have strayed from our best path and wish to return. Traditionally, to do Teshuvah, you have to recognize and regret your misdeed, confess to it, make the decision to change, and do your best to right the wrong. Before we can improve on our limitations first we have to recognize them. Self-critique is a key part of the process and of the holiday. For instance, the commandment “Eneitem Et Nafshoteichem”, traditionally translated as “afflict your souls”, has led to the practice of beating our hearts in seemingly harsh self-judgement while we confess our collective sins during the Ashamnu. However, how many of us have ever made a healthy and long-lasting life change based on self-criticism and negativity? So, while practicing Teshuvah and in general, how do we hold ourselves accountable without crossing the line into merciless fault-finding (like I did when I sang at the wrong time), how do we accept ourselves without falling into complacency? Where’s the right balance between self-acceptance and self-improvement?

This is a question I think about a lot. Three years ago I suddenly developed an autoimmune disease called ITP, which gives me chronic fatigue. “Give” is a funny word. It takes all of my energy. On my first day living with it it felt like gravity got three times stronger. I had this unexplainable urge to be horizontal, which led to me falling asleep on the locker room benches during lunch. Missing out on lunch with my friends that day was my first of many sacrifices. Because with limited energy, when I use it for this, I don’t have it for that. So I had to pick and choose which parts of my identity were disposable. Soccer- cut. School - keep. Family - keep. Friends - cut. I was torn between accepting who I was now and holding myself to the same standards as before - a balancing board with self-acceptance on one side and striving to be the best on the other. And I dedicated my life to maintaining equilibrium.

However, when trying to find balance between two extremes, it is easy to overcompensate and lurch to the opposite side. During the first year or so, I lived with the upbeat attitude that I would miraculously heal overnight. You can call it optimism or denial. But I believed that until that inevitable day when I would wake up with 150,000 platelets like everyone else, I had to continue being as good as everyone else. I sacrificed all comfort and happiness in order to cling to my 4.0 and whatever other remnants of my past self I could hold onto. Because that is what being my best self meant to me at the time.

However, as soon as school let out, I lurched to the other side of the spectrum. After sleeping for a week, I did end up playing tennis with some friends, and had a terrible time due to fatigue. So that day, I made a vow to myself that I would never push myself again. I would never commit to a plan. I would only rely on spur-of-the-moment urges to go do things. That way, I wouldn’t have to let anyone down, including myself. But I forgot one minor detail; I’m a socially anxious introvert with chronic fatigue. Not once that summer did I ever wake up and say, “Hey, I feel like leaving the house right now!”. So for the rest of the summer, I didn’t. In fact, besides listening to 274 episodes of This American Life podcast, I can’t remember what I did do. At the time I prided myself on my self-acceptance, but was it that or giving up?

That was two summers ago, and now my life has improved. This past summer I participated in a three-week, immersive dialogue program in Chicago called Hands of Peace. I take six classes at school. I even joined the cross country team. But there’s an important second half to each of those sentences. At Hands of Peace, I usually went only to the morning dialogue sessions, then napped instead of going to the afternoon activities. At school, I take four IB classes which stimulate and excite me, two easy classes which I can show up to brain-dead, and two free periods in the morning so I can sleep in. And as for cross-country, I’ve only been to three practices this whole season. In the past, I would have felt in each of these cases that I was missing out, that I was being denied the full experience. But, the truth is, I wouldn’t have had the energy to enjoy Hands of Peace at all if I hadn't skipped some of it to nap. I couldn't have signed up for cross-country if I had to commit myself to attending every practice. What it took me a long time to learn is that giving up on some of these experiences is the only way for me to have any of them. Ironically, it was only once I was able to make peace with my limitations -to accept my situation and myself- that I became able to pursue my potential, to work hard to make myself better. In order to achieve this fulfilling, balanced life I had to incorporate both self-acceptance and a drive to better myself, two things I had previously seen as opposing forces. What I've learned is that setting self acceptance on one end of the spectrum and self-betterment on the other end might be creating a false dichotomy. For me, finding the right balance wasn't about sitting dead-center and giving each one 50 percent. It meant figuring out how they could challenge and complement each other to create a symbiosis.

I think practicing Teshuvah is much the same. In the process of finding and improving upon our faults, we may all feel like we are on a balancing board with self-acceptance on one side and pushing to be our “best” self on the other. But I believe the only way to do healthy and long-lasting Teshuvah is to incorporate both; to set realistic expectations for ourselves based in self-acceptance and compassion, and use honest self-evaluation (and sometimes even a bit of constructive criticism) to hold ourselves to that standard.

This relationship is present in Yom Kippur liturgy, especially in the thirteen attributes of God. From Erev Rosh Hashannah through the end of Yom Kippur, these words are chanted more than 30 times:

Adonai, Adonai, God loving and gracious,

Patient, and abundant in kindness and truth,

Keeping kindness for a thousand ages,

Forgiving sin and rebellion and transgression,

Making pure!

“Making pure!” Exclamation mark. Emphasis. When I first read it, this seemed to contradict all the positive attributes listed in the beginning of the poem. I imagined purifying as this violent purging of all badness. How do u make holy water? You boil the hell out of it, right? This is in line with the idea that becoming better relies on harsh judgement and no compromise.

But in this poem, it is the opposite. The process that leads to purity (AKA Teshuvah) involves an abundance of “love”, “patience”, “kindness”, “truth”, and “forgiveness”.

We ask these things of God because traditionally, the goal of Teshuvah was to secure ourselves a place in heaven. But I think a lot of us know that the introspective and personal practice of Teshuvah is not only a struggle between us and God, but more importantly, one within ourselves. Therefore, these thirteen attributes that we praise God for, we can all give to ourselves. Just like God, we can be compassionate with ourselves at the same time as accepting the harsh truth. We can hold ourselves to a standard without sacrificing patience or self-forgiveness. I think in order to do the most healthy and long-lasting Teshuvah, we don't need to compromise between self-acceptance and self-betterment. We don't need to desperately try to find balance in the center of the balancing board, nor lurch from side to side. We just need to step off of it and start walking where we want to go. Thank you.
 

Yom Kippur Jonah Drash by Danielle Pacifico-Cogan
 

Good afternoon. L’Shanah Tova and G’mar Chatima Tova. Thank you to Sacha Reich and members of the High Holidays Liturgy Committee for asking me to deliver the Jonah drash on Yom Kippur. It is an honor that I do not quite know how to process. I am not Jewish, but I am Jewish adjacent. For the last nineteen years I have been married to a Jewish man and we are raising our sons in a Jewish home. I celebrate Jewish holidays and Judaism is my religious preference. I have lived a life with my husband and our children in the cultural tradition of Ashkenazi Judaism of the Bath, Maine-Portland, Oregon variety and not quite observant Reconstructionist Jewish practice. I say this to be transparent about my connection to Judaism.

I thank my husband for noodging me over the last month to write this drash. I also thank him for bringing incredible Jewish women into my life. The women I am thinking of today are no longer with us, their memories are blessings. Ann Chandler and Ruth Finnerty, my father-in-law Nathan Cogan’s California cousins who were urtext second wave Oakland and Berkeley feminists, volunteers for the Black Panther Party, and lifelong fighters for women’s autonomy over their own bodies. They worked in the public sector because they believed in and were dedicated to the public good. Pam Webb, a longtime family friend whose curiosity and enthusiasm were epic, infectious, and unparalleled. And my late mother-in-law Sara Cogan, an inquisitive, self-made woman with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, who if she were born male, I believe, would have been the first Jewish President of the United States.

I mention these women, I say their names because there is an idea I want to share with you to help frame my drash. It is the idea that we all experience three deaths. The first is when your body ceases to function. The second is the day you are buried, never to be seen on the face of the Earth again. The third, is at the moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time.

It is my charge to attempt to offer an interpretation of Jonah’s experience that is salient, timely, affecting, or at least mildly interesting. So, what does the idea of three deaths have to do with these Jewish women and Jonah’s calling to prophesy to the people of Nineveh?  The connection is what we do with the time we have. We may experience the third death, the moment our names are spoken for the last time on the day we are buried or a thousand years after we have been in the ground. What is most important is the life we live. The Days of Awe are an annual examination of that life. Jonah’s story offers an imperfect parallel narrative to the contradictory range of emotions we may grapple with during the Days of Awe.

When the Creator asked Jonah to prophesy to Nineveh, Jonah ran away in the same way we attempt to run away from difficult and challenging emotions that come up when we reflect on our lives. There are also moments of compassion, as when Jonah demands the sailors throw him overboard to stop the tempest. Those three days in the belly of the whale are akin to wallowing in our own emotional stink. All of those feelings- fear, compassion, ambivalence, acquiescence- can occur in minutes or seconds or over hours or days as we examine the lives we have lived in the last year. Even when we accept responsibility and choose to do what’s right, making the choice and acting on it doesn’t necessarily feel gratifying. When Jonah prophesies to the Ninevites, every resident from king to cattle repents and Jonah witnesses this and he is ambivalent. He is moved more by the withering of the vine that gave him shade than the redemption of thousands. Like all of us, Jonah has the capacity to miss the point.

Jonah’s lack of introspection as a prophet and a witness is extremely compelling. What does it mean for us? We may not be asked to prophesy, but our family, friends, co-workers and neighbors are asking us to be witnesses. The Trans movement, the Black Lives Matter movement, the Disability Rights movement, and the movement to end mass incarceration among others, are asking us to be witnesses. According to a perhaps questionable Google translation, the word “witness” in Hebrew means “to say again and again.” If we are to accept this translated definition, to be a witness in our modern context means to tell the truth of what we see again and again.

To be a witness in these times is crucial. For those among us who are Trans, who are Black, who are disabled, who are of color, who are refugees, who are immigrants, we are witnesses as well and some of us are also at the center of the events being witnessed, observed. To borrow from W.E.B. Du Bois, we experience a double consciousness. Du Bois is concerned with the bifurcated identity of Black people in America- those who are both part of and apart, both American and in the cultural consciousness, the Other. The identity on which all societal fear, anger, loathing, rage, shame and guilt is placed as some kind of cosmic justification for mass torture, rape, and enslavement. That justification, to sustain itself, to provide absolution, to make sense of the genocide of the indigenous peoples of the Americas and the trans-Atlantic trade in human beings, was cultivated into a caste system in this country that still affects our lives today. None of us were there at the sites of our country’s original sins, but we live with that history even if we don’t want to, even if we believe our decency and good intentions inoculate us from racism and white supremacy. That particular history is the reason why the man who won the most Electoral College votes is the President of the United States, and the reason that same man began his campaign for president by calling Mexican immigrants rapists and drug dealers.

We all saw it. So how do we bear witness, or to pilfer a phrase from Rebecca Solnit, “How do we have hope in the dark?” We march, we write letters. We donate money, time, and goods. We hold ourselves and others accountable for words, actions, and policies that attempt to diminish the humanity of those who by virtue of who they are, are seen in this country and here in Portland as the Other.

The act of witnessing has the power to be an act of compassion. I know the specific ugly quality of loneliness and heartbreak one feels when they experience an act of hatred and discrimination. Toni Morrison said, “The function, the very function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining over and over again, your reason for being.” I think this definition also applies to the prejudice transgender people experience when they are purposefully misgendered and denied basic rights, when people are stared down for wearing garments that signify their faith, when People of Color are told they do not belong in this country because of the way the speak and look, when a person’s intelligence and humanity is questioned because of their disability, and when a woman believes and knows she has to wear headphones to walk down the street to mitigate the threat of harassment.

It is in those moments and others too numerous to count that those of us who can be, must be, witnesses. Maybe looking back over the year, you feel you have failed at being a witness, or you have been tired and overwhelmed by the mishigas of this world. You are not alone. We have all come up short. I assume we are all tired and dazed by the events of the last year and the last week.

I know I will continue to fail, flail, and come up short. But, we have to sit with that failure. We have to be willing to be in the belly of the whale: uncomfortable, in the dark, and in the muck to take stock and recommit ourselves to what we think is valuable.

As I grappled with my could haves and should haves for the year, I thought of those remarkable Jewish women I mentioned at the beginning of the drash- Ann, Ruth, Pam, and Sara. They meant so much to their families, to their friends, and to me. They were great. They were imperfect. They challenged assumptions, they changed minds, and helped people in ways that still ripple around the world. They struggled, too, and yet, they persisted.

Yes, their bodies have ceased to function. Yes, their bodies have been consigned to the grave, but this is not the moment their names will be spoken for the last time.

Let us reflect, remember, and recommit to what is valuable and important with compassion for ourselves and others, so we can move into the new year ready to be witnesses. May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life. Thank you.

 

Mon, January 21 2019 15 Shevat 5779