At this point we’re all survivors.
Will we make it through another year?
The last Torah reading before Rosh HaShannah includes this call:
הַחַיִּים וְהַמָּוֶת נָתַתִּי לְפָנֶיךָ
Life and death I put before you
Blessing and curse
What does choosing life mean this year?
Each of us faces different dangers. Some are vulnerable to disease, some to war, some to natural disaster, some to poverty, some to isolation, some to invasion.
And alongside the curses, each of us has blessings. Different blessings.
Some are in perfect health. Some live in places graced with peace and stable weather. Some have good livelihoods. Some share a safe home with people they love. Some have faith. Some have humor. Some have luck.
Whatever curses and blessings lie ahead, we are here now. We’ve made it this far. Something—some combination of choice and grace—has kept us alive.
When riots raged in my neighborhood on the seam between East and West Jerusalem last spring, one of the blessings that anchored me were online kirtans that Krishna Das began sending from New York to Corona-ravaged India. I imagined myself catching them on their way eastward, taking in their medicine, and adding my own voice to the invisible choir singing along from around the globe.
Echoing Ram Dass’s timeless formulation “Be Here Now,” Krishna Das started each session with gratitude for life in his signature playful tone: Howdy! He’d say with a smile. I’m still here! We’re still here.
Then he sang, and I sang with him. Sometimes I sang to calm myself as I sat on the floor in the hallway while glass was shattering outside. Sometimes I sang to calm myself through the eerie silences that followed. As spring turned to summer, I sang to give to thanks to the countless peaceful residents who worked tirelessly, mostly invisibly, to guard me and my Hebrew- and Arabic-speaking neighbors from the fatal violence that terrorized other mixed neighborhoods this spring.
The other blessing that gave me solace was Genesis 25.
After Abraham banishes Ishmael and nearly slaughters Isaac, he has six more children with no apparent difficulty. The first of these children is Zimran—whose name means Singer. Unlike his older brothers, Zimran leaves home bearing gifts.
Then Abraham dies “old and at ease,” and Ishmael and Isaac come home to bury him together.
As I sang along with Krishna Das this summer, I imagined the seeds of the Abraham story traveling east with Zimran. Is it possible that some of those same seeds were mixed in with the song medicine that Krishna Das took in when he arrived in India from Long Island? Is it possible that he brought some those seeds back with him when he returned to the States in 1973? Is it possible that those of us who tuned in from the mountains and valleys that were once home to Ishmael, Isaac, and Zimran were completing a circle?
As 5781 draws to a close, may we bury the people, places, and dreams we lost this year with peace in our hearts, finding ways to turn their memory into a blessing.
May we the living continue to choose life.
May life choose us.