A year ago today, three days before Rosh Hashanah, I was followed from my office in Johannesburg and was attacked at gunpoint. Although not physically harmed, the event would alter the course of my life. Perspective is a strange thing and mine was permanently altered the instant I processed that the difference between life and death for me was a twitch of a nervous stranger’s shaking finger on a trigger. That was all it would take to make my wife a widow and my children fatherless. That was all that it would take to end my chapter. And there was very little I could do to influence the outcome. The incident took no more than 90 seconds.
It was 10am and I had been up and working since 4:30am. Nothing could have prepared me for the way in which the day would unfold. Rosh Hashanah was coming too fast and I hadn’t had the time to prepare for it on any level. I was frantic with so much work to cover. I didn’t go to the pre-holiday slichot services as I needed to be in the office and my mind was on anything but the seriousness of the day. That is until 10am.
For a few days I tried to hold on to what seemed important at 9:59am, but somehow no cognitive skill would allow me to do so, as I was now inhabiting a post 10am world. As hard as I tried, I could not go back. And try I did.
For the three days that separated my event from the yom tov holiday it was business as usual. I buried the thoughts that accompany an attack of this nature and made light of it as much as I could. The incident had taken place in my lawyer’s parking garage and I jokingly told people that given the fees that lawyers charge, one normally has to go inside to be robbed. And I worked and I worked and I got done what I needed to ahead of the few days in which I could not.
I stood in shul on Rosh Hashanah knowing in theory that I needed to thank God for my life. But I didn’t comprehend it at all until the Unetaneh Tokef prayer where we wonder as to who will live and who will die. And I knew then that I had snuck in, just. I could quite easily not have seen10:01.
A change in perspective is unsettling and scary. It was exhausting for me and unsettling for all those around me. It questions “givens” and reevaluates everything and whether it was a severe case of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that caused this, or a flash of reality, my world shifted in that instance.
And so, exactly a year later I made a point of going to slichot, of contemplating what lies ahead this Rosh Hashanah, and knowing that although we might want to be in control and we might even be able to control certain events, at the end of the day we exist at the whim of a twitch.
And strangely, as negative as this might sound, the opposite is true. The simple knowledge that we are not able to control everything, the understanding as to what is and what is not important in our frenetic world brings along with it a serenity that for me could not exist at 9.59.
The year that was has not been an easy one. Not personally, not as a Jew and not as a global citizen. But somehow, as we head towards another Rosh Hashanah, I do so with so much more appreciation and with so much more gratitude than I did last year. I also do so with a little dose of healthy fear. For me it is near impossible to live with perfect clarity, but if there is a time when I try to do so, it will be over the next few weeks. My wish for us all is that 9:59am becomes 10am and that no finger twitches for us, for our families, for our communities, for Israel and for the entire planet.