Today I am sitting at my son's graveside. It is where I have spent the last ten Yom Kippur holidays. This is called the Day of Atonement. Most Jews spend this holiest of days in synagogue praying and fasting. We are tasked with evaluating our behavior and asking for forgiveness. I used to do it this way.
This is not to say we should not have strong convictions. We are a people who argue. We are a people who disagree. But the challenge now is not to let these disagreements tear us apart. They have done too many times in history. Indeed, some of our worst wounds have been self-inflicted.
There's nothing wrong with sending apology texts, or using technology to connect with those far away, but for many the High Holidays tradition of apologizing to those we have wronged has largely become a perfunctory gesture and that's a shame.
The Hebrew word for responsibility is achre-ut. The root of that word is acher. Acher means other. To be responsible is to make the concerns of the other are own. It is to begin to see our own tears shining in the eyes of the other.
When I was growing up, the Jewish New year -- aka Rosh Hashanah -- always meant brisket, apples and honey cake. I can still remember watching my Mom slicing the hard-boiled eggs, pounding the fried onions and livers in a huge cherry wood bowl.
Last week I stood inside the crumbling walls of the last synagogue in northern Iraq. Abandoned over sixty years ago, the 2700 year old tomb of Nahum, rests in the Christian town of Al Qosh.
These special days are designated as days of repentance and atonement, promoting serious introspection and reconciliation. It is customary to consider people who we may have hurt, injured, or mistreated in some way and seek their forgiveness bringing harmony into both lives.
This past Monday, I sat in services for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, nervous about my task: to go to the front of the congregation and lift the Torah (Holy Scripture scrolls) above my head after it was read and before it was to be placed back in its Holy Ark, where it is kept.
I sat deeply in my chair as the reader chanted the blessing before the Haftarah portion for the first day of Rosh Hashanah.
In the Unetaneh Tokef prayer of 2015, we could easily add the phrases: "who by bullet and who by negligence, who by semi-automatic weapon and who by unlicensed handgun, who by lack of background check and who by accident."
Still, in my heart, there is no conflict between Buddhism and Judaism. Judaism is a culture and a religion. Buddhism, in my experience, is a scientific method for training the mind to be kind and peaceful and realistic. It is not inherently religious.
Today, alienation, fear, suspicion and mistrust reign high and mighty. The only antidote to all of them is unity. When all of humanity can function like a single organism there will be plenty for everyone.
For over 14 years, my nest has been empty. My kids are scattered and the grandchildren live far away. Tumultuous family gatherings have not materialized, nor have impromptu dinners, brunches, or barbecues. And I am sad.
"Man and woman were created in the Divine image. Male and female God created them." Each year we reread the story of creation. We return to our story of origin as a signal that Rosh Hashanah is all about returning to our truest selves -- or as we say in Hebrew, tshuvah.
This year includes an alignment at mid-September of the main holy days in the Jewish and Islamic calendars. At sundown on September 13, Jews observed the first of their High Holy Days, and their recognized commencement of the new year, Rosh Hashanah.
Dipping an apple in honey is the most popular in a series of simanim, symbolic foods, associated with the Rosh Hashanah feast. The custom is even recorded as far back as the Talmud. There are many other simanim, some simple and some exotic, that vary by community.