On this eve of the Jewish New Year, as day turns to night, and the new moon barely begins to glow, I pray that our poor planet is granted a year of healing, blessing and peace. May each and everyone of us be blessed and use this year that we are given to be a blessing.
This is the first Rosh Hashanah in a long time when I will not be leading services, but will be worshipping virtually from my first congregation in Louisville (https://www.thetemplelouky.org/hhd/) where I first served after I was ordained. I just left my congregation in Florida and am settling into my new job here in Nova Scotia, where I am humbled by the opportunity to work on decolonizing the field of social work and doing what I can to advocate for justice and equality in my home country.
In 2019, the Canadian Association for Social Work issued the following apology for their role in supporting and implementing policies that harmed -and continue to harm- Indigenous communities: https://www.casw-acts.ca/en/statement-apology-and-committment-reconciliation. Recognizing this truth, they have begun the important and difficult task of working to decolonize themselves and right the wrongs that they have done and continue to perpetuate.
I am profoundly moved by this apology. Too often, those who try to help, unintentionally wind up hurting those they say they are serving. This is true for social workers and this is true for clergy and this true for well-meaning individuals who volunteer or do whatever they can to try to make things better, but because they remain part of the system, they wind up reinforcing the very system that is causing the injustice.
It is all too easy to get defensive, when one’s intentions are good, and we are told that our actions are harmful. Human beings blame and judge and put up walls and dig our feet and… Taking ownership for one’s failings is rare, and yet it is so important. We can never move past the present until we do, and indeed, too many awakenings revert back to the well-worn grooves of that which is entrenched as status quo.
This is true on a collective level and on an individual level. How many arguments and misunderstandings are perpetuated by an ego that refuses to be humbled and own its errors?
Judaism teaches that on Rosh Hashanah, we should think back on all that we have done, and all that we have not done, and take stock. What do we regret, what did we do that perhaps we should not have, and what did we not do, but ought to have… We are commanded that we cannot pray for forgiveness until we make amends and right our wrongs.
I am inspired by this picture of these four flags (left to right): the French Acadian flag (my mother’s people), the Nova Scotian flag, the Mi’kma’ki flag (the Indigenous tribe upon whose unceded territory Nova Scotia rests, and whose inherent rights were recognized in the Peace and Friendship Treaties that were signed from 1725 to 1779, and which established rules for an ongoing relationship between nations) and the Canadian flag. This picture illustrates true patriotism: one where no one is diminished by recognizing the other. After a summer when the injustice against Indigenous communities has surfaced, this image is an example of the coexistence that needs to become reality.
Too often, we speak about what ought to be, instead of what is, or what we wish to become. I believe that prayer has the ability to be aspirational, and to remind us of that for which we ought to strive. On this Rosh Hashanah, I pray that all of us, individually and collectively, have the courage to admit what is true, and the strength to do what needs to happen to make amends and move us all into the direction we need to head.
Religion and prayer tends to be relegated to pretty buildings, catchy songs and things we are told to say, believe or do. Yet, time and again, prophets have come to remind us that such rituals are empty and hollow. What G!d wants, more than whether we attend a worship service or read from our prayerbook or bible, is to complete the work of creation, to right our wrongs and to make the most of every moment we are given.
May this coming year of 5782 teach us to do this, for ourselves, for one another and for the communities that we call ours… may we recognize that we are stronger when we stand alongside those who are different from us, and wiser when we acknowledge our failings… may we do whatever needs to be done to make this world one where all people are treated with respect.