As I write this message in mid-August, we are besieged once again with difficult news and a world in turmoil. Far from emerging from the pandemic with some degree of confidence that the worst is behind us, we are plunged anew into a confusing situation, facing a more challenging variant of the coronavirus and no herd immunity in sight. The twentieth anniversary of 9/11 is approaching, in the context of a disastrous retreat in Afghanistan. The citizens of beleaguered Haiti are again suffering another devastating earthquake. Our very democracy is under threat. And the climate crisis is palpably real, being felt every day around the globe.
In all this turmoil, we are managing a bewildering mix of feelings — thankful for the brief window of hugging family and friends again; appreciation of the simple and not-so-simple things we have taken for granted for so long; but also sober reminders of massive death and economic losses from the pandemic; mental fatigue from the daily onslaught of bad news and worse; and the numbing after-effects of experiencing so much dread and fear, worry and anxiety, anger and helplessness, so much sorrow. Over this past year, we have absorbed – and we continue to carry — more than we know what to do with.
Rabbi Art Green reminds us that the Hebrew word for crisis is “mashber.” The word comes from the Hebrew root, shever, or brokenness. And indeed, much has been broken during the pandemic and the last few years. But mashber also refers to the birthing stone that women and midwives used in ancient times – perhaps referring to the breaking open of the womb. Something new can be born out of crisis, if we have strength and trust in the future. The breaking apart of structures and habits can birth new, more just, more equitable, more compassionate ways of living in this world.
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur offer us a way into the process of relearning our own lives – transforming mashber/crisis into mashber/birthing stone. What have we learned from this past year? What will we keep? What will we discard? What will sustain us? What will make us a more just society? I look forward to us exploring these questions, individually and as a congregation.
At Kol Ami we have commissioned a new aron kodesh/sacred ark that will hold our Torah. The words chosen by the congregation that adorn the inside of the ark are hashmi-ini et koleich/ let me hear your voice. These words are part of the love song of Song of Songs – and a play on our congregational name, Kol Ami/ Voice of My People.
There is so much we yearn for and pray for, this coming year. Earlier, we had hoped to come together in person this High Holidays to join our voices and prayers aloud. But we have made the decision to hold High Holiday services on Zoom instead, to ensure the maximum inclusiveness and care for one another’s health. Still, we can lift our voices, hear our own prayers, and make each of our voices heard. And may we in turn hear the voice of the divine guiding us in our lives — entreating us to speak our innermost truths and to sing of life in all its possibilities.