The day before Yom Kippur, I was asked to give a “Dvar Torah” at our Mesorati conservative synagogue in Meitar. I stood in the synagogue on Yom Kippur and said what was in my heart. I just hope somebody was listening.

Yom Kippur is the chance we get once a year to stop for a minute and look inside ourselves. It’s a time to ask ourselves some tough questions. How did we live our lives this year? Did we reach the goals we set for ourselves? Did we contribute to society? Did we treat others with kindness? And was it a good year?

This year, it is especially painful to look back, after a war that resulted in such heavy casualties for both sides. On this holiest of days, we remember those who are no longer with us. This year, 72 beloved soldiers were added to that list, brave young soldiers who gave their lives to protect the State of Israel. Among them were Liad Lavi and Noam Rozenthal zal of Meitar. When we said the “Netaneh Tokef” prayer last year in the synagogue, and asked “Who will live, and who will die”, who would have believed that this summer, we would stand crying in the military cemetary in Metar, twice in the same week, at the funerals of Liad and Noam of blessed memory.

On this day we look inwards. But when you’re Israeli, you can’t help but looking outwards, too, hoping that our political reality will change for the better. We yearn for a better reality for ourselves and for our children, as residents of the south and as Israelis. And yes, we pray for peace. We can and must shout this hope out loud.

Many people said that during the war we saw the good side of the Israeli people: unity and mutual responsibility. But all you had to do was get on Facebook to see the terrifying sides of our society that is becoming more and more extreme – the hatred, racism, lack of tolerance and threats on anyone who dared to disagree with the national consensus. In order for us to see a change, we have to take action and work towards “Tikkun Olam”, to build a society based on tolerance and respect for all groups of society and all points of view – left and right, religious and secular, and yes, Jewish and Arabs. Because, as our sages taught us, we and our neighbors were all created in God’s image.

Last Wednesday I went to a concert of Israeli singer Shlomo Artzi at the outside ampitheater in Ashdod, together with 6000 other Israelis. The concert has been postponed from the summer, because of the war. Shlomo asked us to turn on our cellphones and raise them to the sky “so Hammas can see that we’re still here!” And then he asked us to join him in his song New Land, Eretz Hadasha. Under the starry sky that just a few weeks ago was raining rockets, the words of the song sounded more like a prayer:
“If we don’t slow down, don’t look, don’t see what is around us, we won’t reach a new land.”

I will end with a blessing based on one simple word. We say it alot, and it is repeated over and over in the prayer books, but we don’t really mean it: Shalom. We must commit ourselves to do everything, truly everything in our power, to bring peace – peace amongst ourselves and peace between us and our Arab neighbors. May this year be a year of peace, Amen.
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