It’s that time of the year again. Yamim Noraim. Days of Awe. Yom Tov. Getting your name into the Book of Life and having it sealed. Reflecting, praying your heart out, forgiving, asking forgiveness, doing t’shuva, atoning, fasting, and ultimately, returning. (May it be God’s will, if you believe in God and determinism, as opposed to free destiny – I’m not sure where I fall in the determinism/free destiny debate, though I do believe in God.)
I take this time of year very seriously. Not so much as a bowing before God as an accounting of my soul – to better myself in my eyes, in my family’s eyes (most particularly my daughter’s eyes), and even, oddly enough, in God’s eyes. I can only do what I can do. Most years, I question how much that is. What’s my limit? What’s enough? How much capacity, emotional energy, breathing room from chronic depression, do I have this year?
Some years, all I can do is forgive myself. Even that is a struggle. I have also had years in which I asked forgiveness of others, accepted their apologies, and engaged in deeply healing repair. I feel blessed that I do this work during Elul every year, because I believe it helps me during the rest of the year to come. Helps me to do fewer hurtful acts, to realize more quickly when I have lost my way, and to repair without waiting for the next Elul – the next prescribed time for reflection. After all, shouldn’t we reflect, repair, and repent even without “having” to?
This year, my thoughts have turned to issues of deep importance. Racism, #BlackLivesMatter, and the crisis of refugees who are risking everything to escape from war and violence in Syria and so many other places. As an ethical (I hope), moral person, I can’t escape feeling deeply about these issues. As a Jew, I feel even more strongly that I must step up and be counted. I must do more than think. I am compelled to act to better the world. After all, we are told that we must begin to act even in those situations where we know we will not be able to complete the task. We must start. It is a Jewish value.
Today, I’m focusing on the refugee crisis currently unfolding in Europe. I have such trepidation as I look at the acts of the Hungarian government in blocking the refugees from continuing through Hungary into Germany, and whatever other countries will accept them. I shudder when I see these intrepid souls having numbers written on their arms by Czech police, so reminiscent of the numbers tattooed on Jews at concentration camps. I am filled with trepidation as governments shift their positions day by day – one day outstretching their hands, only to pull them back – no, to strike out – in fear and loathing at the “other.” The non-Christian. The “heathen.” Did Europe not go through this just 70 years ago? What is wrong with these countries. I find myself grateful to Germany, because it understands the meaning of repair. Its leaders know that they cannot repeat an evil that Germany once perpetuated.
Where do we, as Americans come out? Not well, I fear. Our president has announced that we will take in 10,000 refugees. A drop in the bucket. A sneeze. Surely we, as a nation of more than 300 million souls, can find it in our hearts to welcome in a larger number of oppressed people. Let’s set aside for the moment the responsibility we have as a result of our actions in the Middle East over the past 14 years. Let’s instead focus on empathy and equity. We are a nation of refugees. We should have open arms for these lost souls.
In the midst of these insoluble issues, I wonder what my responsibility is. What should my role be? Do I speak out? Write? Or must I take stronger action? Personal action. Meaningful, life-changing action. Changing not my life, but the lives of others. The lives of refugees. Even one. The Talmud, after all, says that “one who saves a single life, saves the world.” (Talmud Sanhedrin 37:11) How do I save a life? What constitutes meaningful action?
I am moving toward the realization that I need to be in Europe. Maybe Germany, maybe Hungary. I don’t know where yet. To use my legal skills, my writing skills, my people skills to help. To help get asylum status for as many refugees as I can. To help the children. I have to figure out how to do this – maybe start a gofundme.com campaign to have enough money to get to Europe, take time off from work, and pay my bills. Somehow, I feel I need to do this. To act. Because, after all, actions speak louder than words. It is time to live my Jewish values.