Last year, when I was asked to do a speech-let for the High Holidays, for the first time, I demurred. In contrast to the previous three years, I felt I did not have anything to say. I was not overly proud of where I was: I wasn’t doing the kind of volunteer work that I wanted to be doing while watching my friends make the world a better place daily with their advocacy. I wasn’t challenging myself intellectually, I wasn’t helping my kids be better people, and, to be frank, I was eating too much chocolate.
As I sat there last year at Yom Kippur, listening to Andy Lovinger read the Haftorah portion (as he will again this year), I read along in English. I was very struck by the language in the second part of this Haftorah; it spoke very clearly to me:
Isiah asks, “Is this the kind of fast I have chosen…is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?” Yes, in fact, last year, that was exactly the fast I had chosen. I went without food and drink, and I came to shul, and I bowed my head.
He goes on to say “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice…to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter?” He continues, “If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness.”
So I sat there last year at Yom Kippur, thinking about what I wanted to be able to say in 12 months, the changes I needed to make so that I could stand here proudly, and say “Hineni—Here I am!” And I came up with a plan, and over the last year, I’ve executed it.
In the last year, I started working with HIAS in Silver Spring, and have helped them develop some programming for their asylum-seeker clients. I still cheer on family and friends when they are taking on big issues like child separation and common-sense gun laws, and I am now doing my part, too, in ways that make sense for me and fit into my schedule and constraints. It hasn’t always been convenient, but it has been worth it.
I have donated both time and money to the Arlington Food Assistance Center, and I’ve brought my kids with me so they could learn what it means to “spend yourself in behalf of the hungry.” Far be it for me to nag other people, but…this is really easy, and really fun, and really worthwhile. So let me know if you want to join me and my family in the year to come. Or there are a million opportunities for similar activities through our Social Action Committee.
The connection with my kids at home was important to me, and that had been lacking as well. It’s so easy for all of us to get caught up in making dinner, doing homework, diving into our devices. So I started making a conscious effort to get out more board games and pay attention to which ones caught my kids’ interest—now our go-to is to play a game when we’re just sitting around. Makes my board game geek heart go pitter-pat. Those are some of the best times with the family, especially when we find one my husband enjoys, too!
I also started learning to chant Torah. I feel like an infomercial, but in less than ten minutes a day over just a few months, I learned the trope and have become one of our regular Saturday morning readers. Each time I have a new parsha to learn, I have questions about the Hebrew or about the context or about the meaning; I ask questions of anyone I think will have answers (usually but not always Rabbi Bass), and I’m giving myself a mini-masters in Jewish education. In this way, I strengthen my bond with my religious community, meet a need we have in our kehillah (community), and I get to learn new things each time. Talk about win-win!
Isiah says that if you do these types of things, “You will be like a well-watered garden”. All in all, I’m glad to say I’m in a better place than I was at this time last year, and I have Isiah and his words to thank for it.
Before I conclude, the very attentive listener might ask: “But, Sue, what about the chocolate?” Unfortunately, I can’t say I’ve made all that much progress on the chocolate front. Maybe next year.
G’mar Hatimah Tovah.
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Synagogue or Board of Directors.