Ever since I was a boy, the experience of Rosh Hashanah has had both physical and spiritual hallmarks. Everyone eats challah and apples dipped in honey, but every year I also always had my mom’s refined onion soup, and helped her make roast duck for the extended family (If I can dig it up, I’ll share the recipe. It’s really something special. And I don’t even like duck). Many people have a wonderful synagogue experience, but I walked home with my dad singing the beautiful hasidic melodies that the young chazanim (cantors) would use for the morning or Musaf services.
One element of the Rosh Hashanah liturgy has always had that extra resonance for me. The Musaf amidah (standing silent prayer) has three highly symbolic parts. These are called Malchuyot (sovereignty or kingship) Zichronot (memory or remembrances) and Shofarot (the sounding of the shofar or awakening call). If you look at the Musaf liturgy, these sections include several quoted passages from the Torah and prophets, each including a reference to the theme. In almost every line, they refer to the majesty of the Almighty, his capacity for remembrance of all things, and the arousal of his subjects to repentance and renewal.
It has long been the practice of our introspective people to emend additional interpretations appropriate to their generations and circumstances to how we look at this liturgy. So I want to share with you what I draw from these elements that has practical resonance for me and for our work at the Federation, and I encourage you to do the same.
The element of sovereignty and majesty has primacy of place. It describes God’s sovereignty - and as we are made in His image, it demands that we consider how we grapple with Jewish sovereignty; how we stand with our people - sovereign in our homeland - and how we engage with Israel’s leadership when that sovereignty is challenged by internal strife. From the perspective I hold, that sovereignty can and must be preserved by consensus, dialogue, and love for our brothers and sisters.
The element of remembrance is appropriately the middle element, as it is at the center of our identity. As the Almighty remembers all, we can seek to emulate His knowledge of the past. We have duties to the generations before us, not least to care for and hear from our seniors and survivors, but also to convey the wisdom of earlier times to our children, even our smallest. And we are also called to ensure that our neighbors and their children - beyond the Jewish community - both learn the lessons of the Holocaust and come to understand that our memory demands a vigorous and effective response to hate and antisemitism.
Finally the element of the shofar’s call, awakening us to repentance, can also serve to make us aware of vulnerability and need in our community, demanding that we both listen to and hear those who are challenged to find sustenance, shelter, or hope. We ask for God’s generosity every time we say ‘Shana Tova’. How can we not reflect that generosity in how we care for others? And that call also demands that we be alert to the threats our community faces from those who would do harm, prompting us to secure our institutions and be aware of our surroundings.
I’m sharing these thoughts with you because this is how I look at our mission at the Jewish Federation and Foundation of Rockland County. I want you to know that your Federation works every day to answer these calls and provides security, educational programs, grants to agencies, leadership development, and advocacy to government, while convening the community to celebrate and to take collective action. This is how we make a difference and push forward positive change in our homes, synagogues, and our communities in Israel and around the world. This is what we do, and I hope that you have some more insight into what inspires us to do it. With your support and partnership, there’s no limit to what we can accomplish together.
May you and your family have a sweet, healthy, peaceful and successful year.
Shana Tova U’Metuka!