There is something beautiful about new beginnings. The moment we draw a line in time and symbolically mark an end and a commencement at the same time. In a way, it is as beautiful as it would be watching sunrise and sunset happening simultaneously. Dawn and dusk.
The Jewish Year starts in the moment the old one ends. While this is also true for New Year’s Eve, in the case of Rosh Hashanah, this moment closes an entire year of good deeds and sins, of missteps and joy; of ups, downs and whatever is in between. At the same time, it opens the door for a new path, one that offers the chance to rebuild ourselves.
We Jews are told, mostly by our own, to be the People of the Book. Books are a collective result of words. The days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are full of words, and those words in most cases end with a question mark. But why instead of shooting celebratory fireworks in the air do we choose to ask questions? And essentially what do we do with those questions?
The jesting child would answer: We do with those questions what every Jew would do, answer with another question.
The logical child would say: For every question there is an answer, and that’s what we must find.
The philosophical one, in turn, would reply: Searching for answers is the way we find meaning in our life.
Clearly, they are all right. However, if anything defines what we do with those questions during this period of self-reflection, it is that every question is answered with action. The question “have I done enough good deeds” precedes the active decision to do more, better, with a wider impact. Questions of why we harmed somebody leads to asking for forgiveness, and also to finding ways to be less harmful.
A few years ago, I went to the Museum of Film and Television in Berlin. As you enter the Museum, and before you look at the images of movies, actresses, actors; you enter a hall of mirrors. With mirrors on every side of the corridors, the floor and the ceilings all creating magnifying, distorting images, I felt both mesmerized by being the image of my own movie and at the same time, trapped in a loop where I couldn’t escape seeing myself from different perspectives. These Jewish Days of Awe are quite similar to that loop of mirrors. There is nowhere to go but down a road that leads to your own self.
These days of self-evaluation, repentance, and regret are pretty much what post-moderns would call mindfulness, just without the hype (and the apps). We open the wounds, we see the void, we let it bleed. In Jewish tradition, rebirth is an annual ritual. In other religions, being born again happens once. In our case, it happens every year.
Working in the field of healthcare, representing the Hadassah Hospitals in Jerusalem around the world, I witness lives being reborn all the time.
You would think I am talking about the lives of the thousands of patients who pass through the miraculous hands of Hadassah’s surgeons; or the premature babies born weeks ahead of time who survive due to the innovative neonatal care invented by Hadassah’s “state-of-the-art” physician-scientists, that hybrid version of medical superheroes whose lives are devoted to treating patients and finding cures at the same time. I could write pages of stories and examples of lives being rebuilt, and I definitely will do that in future articles.
However, as we each look at what we have done in this past year, I want to talk about the way people build their lives anew by finding ways to repair their wounds through acts of kindness, dealing with their travails by spreading openheartedness.
I remember the family who overcame the trauma of losing a sibling and daughter from stage-four melanoma by working with Hadassah to lead a campaign to support cancer immunotherapy research that would save others. Or the couple who waited years to witness the birth of their only son, and from that moment on decided to live a life of generosity that would ensure that other waiting parents could realize their dreams of babies of their own.
The combination of modernity and ultra-high technology makes us experience fast-speed lives. Looking for bigger achievements, faster communication, more of this and more of that, we don’t have time to look around. We fail to extend a hand not because of lack of intention but because we are on the run.
On the run from ourselves.
I am not a preacher, but a humble servant of the mission I deeply believe in my heart, supporting healing the world through creating connections around the globe with Hadassah International.
This time of the year, when I breathe and reflect, I ask myself if I have done enough. I know I have not. I have shared my passion in many ways but in others that I could have, I haven’t. Many times, I got lost and stuck in the intricacies of necessary organizational inroads, and that stopped me from doing more. I have talked so much with so many, and I still need to find the way to communicate better, to create that impact that can engage people into action.
Dusk and dawn. When someone, anywhere in the world, rebuilds her life through an act of selflessness, it might result in rebuilding the life of someone far away whose physical life is in danger. That very instant of benevolence is the most magical moment of human existence.
A few days ago, as the new Jewish year started, I was part of a global chain that generated a magnificent act of kindness. At midday for me in Jerusalem, sunset in Melbourne, Australia and sunrise in New York, I learned about an extraordinary life-changing gift, the details of which will be known very soon. At that amazing moment I knew that many stressed souls in Jerusalem who are fighting to breathe or struggling to walk would be blessed by being written in the Book of Life.
Light follows every darkness. And this year, I pledge my heart, mind and actions to do anything in my power to experience more of those magical moments when dusk and dawn become one.