Yonatan Sredni

Rosh Hashana Reflections: It’s Not in Heaven

“This is a story all about how
My life got flipped-turned upside down…”

Those are the opening lyrics of the theme song to The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, the 1990’s hit TV sit-com starring Will Smith (when he was just a young rapper and not yet a major movie star). I too have been thinking a lot about how my life has changed over the past year.

On January 1st, I began working at World WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organization) as the Head of English Content in the Publicity & Communications Division. In fact, I have blogged and written about my eye-opening experiences at WIZO on several occasions. I described what it’s like to be one of the few males working in a women’s organization in an article published in the Jerusalem Post on Family Day, on The Times of Israel I shared my experiences volunteering in a WIZO day care center on Good Deeds Day and my most recently I interviewed the Chairperson of World WIZO, Prof. Rivka Lazovsky, in the Jerusalem Post Weekend Magazine.

But as we all know, the Jewish New Year does not begin on January 1st, but on Rosh Hashana. So if I really want to reflect on the Jewish year that was, I cannot just recap my eight months at WIZO, but I must go back further to where I was on the eve of Rosh Hashana exactly one year ago.

Last year at this time I had recently completed a year and half of serving as the Contributing Editor at NoCamels – Israel Innovation News (, a really great online publication. At NoCamels I wrote many articles on a wide variety of subjects having to do with Israeli innovation. Some of them were cool (Tel Aviv turns lifeguard tower at beach into a posh hotel room), some were really innovative apps or technology (roads that charge your car as your drive over them), some were life-saving (a breakthrough in skin cancer research and the story of a Detriot rabbi who taught kids with cancer how to cope using karate breathing techniques) and so much more.

But if you had asked me last year on Rosh Hashana eve which NoCamels stories most resonated with me I’d recall the following three stories. The time I got to interview astronaut Buzz Aldrin (the 2nd man to ever step foot on the moon) when he visited the Technion in Haifa, when I interviewed interview former NBA all-star Amare Stoudemire at the Forbes conference in Tel Aviv and a story involving a former co-worker (from when I worked in PR at Blonde 2.0) who works at Tel Aviv-based Powtoon, an online platform for creating cartoon presentations, who traveled to the deepest parts of Africa with her CEO to discover if a remote tribe who never saw a cartoon before would find them funny.

Now, a year later, I sit wondering if the articles I write now for WIZO, about their wonderful day care centers, schools and youth villages, programs for teens and women and more, have the  same”wow” impact that meeting a man who walked on the moon or was a top NBA player or Israelis who went to tribal Africa to show them cartoons for the first time does.

This Shabbat, the final one of the year 5778, we read the short Torah portion of Nitzavim. In one of the verses it says:

“Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not in heaven …. Nor is it beyond the sea …. No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it. (Deut. 30:11-14)

The first question we must ask is, what exactly is “the command” we are talking about here (that is “not in heaven” or “beyond the sea”)?

Many classic Torah commentators debate what the “command” is. The Ramban and others say it is referring to Tshuva (repentance), which is very fitting for the high holiday period. They believe the verse is saying that one is never too far-gone to repent.

Other commentators say “the command” is talking about the Torah as a whole. That keeping the commandments -in our verse it is in singular, “commandment”, but it really means ALL the commandments (mitzvot)- is not something that is beyond our reach.

But as I reread these verses this year I had an epiphany, as if the verses we directed specifically at me:

“It is not in heaven …. Nor is it beyond the sea …”

It is not in heaven”… Maybe it means I don’t need to literally aspire to reach for the stars and go to the moon like Buzz Aldrin or become an NBA star like Amare Stoudemire. Both those ambitions are “in heaven” as far as I am concerned and not within my reach.

Nor is it beyond the sea” … It’s great that the PowToon team from Israel went to bring joy in the form of cartoons to the most remote tribe in Africa, but maybe the verse is telling me that I wasn’t meant to go “beyond the sea” to do something like that either.

“…it is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach… No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.”

This sums it up for me. My particular mission is not to go to the heaven or beyond the sea. At WIZO I have discovered that the “Wow factor” is all around me. It is at a WIZO day care center in Bat Yam where an Ethiopian mother told me “this place, this day care center, is a miracle”. It’s WIZO’s  nationwide after-school Otzma Tzeira project that empowers teenage girls. It’s the visits I’ve made to WIZO youth villages in Petach Tikva, Even Yehuda, Rishon LeZion and Afula where I see how the caring staff makes a real difference in the lives of these teenagers, many of whom come from really difficult family situations. It’s the touching story of Eliyahu Sharvit, a very troubled youth who would get into fights at school until he finally ended up at the WIZO Vocational school in Beit Hakerem (Jerusalem), found his passion in music and a caring and attentive staff and his life “got flipped-turned upside down” (to borrow a phrase from The Fresh Prince) and just a few months ago he won a national award from Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin.

True, I may no longer be writing about life-saving technical devices and medical discoveries as I did before, but now I write about how the organization I work for is changing the lives of infants, children, youth, women and others everyday through WIZO programs run by dedicated WIZO workers and volunteers. These are not astronauts or basketball stars but everyday people with very big hearts. And most importantly, all of this – it’s not in heaven or over the sea, it’s all around us and very much within our reach – and when you see it in action, it’s wow – I mean really WOW!

Shana Tova!

About the Author
Yonatan Sredni is a journalist and editor at CTech by Calcalist. With degrees from the US and Israel, he has a background in journalism, public relations, and creative writing. In addition to TOI and CTech, his articles have been published in The Jerusalem Post and on NoCamels and Israel National News.