Randall Fried

The Essence of Return

As the sun dips low on the horizon, casting its amber glow over a reflective world, Yom Kippur ushers in a collective silence, a profound moment of introspection for Jewish communities worldwide. This solemn day is not merely a time to seek forgiveness but a poignant reminder of T’shuvah, the art of returning, a concept both intimate and vast, reaching into the macrocosm of societal structures and the microcosm of our personal realms.

This past week, I had the immense honor and privilege to represent the World Jewish Congress at a series of events at the United Nations. Most notably, I was enveloped in enriching dialogues with young Muslims from diverse backgrounds, sharing their concerns, aspirations, and the boundless potential for collaboration that exists between our communities. These interactions were not just dialogues but reflections of shared values and mutual respect, harmonizing voices in a symphony of peaceful coexistence.

Yom Kippur’s spirit, emphasizing a return to values, echoes through my experiences as well with my work at Tzedek America, where we advocate for uplifting individuals so that they are truly seen and heard. Here, we embrace our Jewish values and interconnect with people possessing diverse lived experiences, sowing the seeds of empathy and shared humanity.

Yet, the journey of T’shuvah is not exclusively external. The echos of the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah reverberate within our hearts, making us reflect on our personal dimensions of return. A colleague’s musings resonate profoundly with me. Rosh Hashanah today is a different experience, especially for individuals like myself, who can no longer dwell solely within the realms of personal prayers at the synagogue. As a father and husband, my focus is perpetually divided. However, it is within this seeming distraction that I uncover the profound blessing of my family, the anchor of my existence.

This Yom Kippur, as we refrain from earthly sustenance, the act of fasting serves not as a mere ritual but as a means to ground us in the moment. It accentuates our awareness, enabling us to internalize the essence of T’shuvah on both macro and micro levels. The collective hunger is a reminder of our shared vulnerabilities, bringing us closer to our intrinsic values and to each other.

The essence of T’shuvah is multilayered, extending beyond self to encompass the collective. The act of returning is not isolated; it’s an intertwining journey of collective self-improvement and mutual understanding. It’s the embodiment of Jewish values in action, encouraging us to be better, to reach out and foster bridges of amity with those different from us.

It is our collective responsibility to heed the universal lessons of Yom Kippur, to reflect on our actions, rectify our wrongs, and seek to forge a harmonious world, intertwined in mutual respect and shared values. It’s about reconciling our diversities and converging our voices in a harmonious dialogue for peace.

My interactions with young Muslims at the United Nations and my work with Tzedek America are testaments to the boundless possibilities inherent in embracing T’shuvah. They are the reflections of the transformative power of returning to our values, to our collective humanity, and to each other. The intertwined journeys of introspection and collaboration are pathways to a future sculpted in mutual understanding and shared aspirations.

Moreover, the profound frustrations and distractions accompanying familial responsibilities are the true blessings, providing the invaluable opportunity for personal return, to embrace our roles more deeply, guided by our enduring Jewish values. It is through embracing our familial bonds and responsibilities that we truly embody the essence of T’shuvah, returning to our roots and grounding ourselves in love and shared commitment.

This Yom Kippur, let us embark on this reflective journey with renewed vigor, embracing the essence of return on both personal and collective fronts. Let us delve into introspective silences and extend our hands in peaceful collaboration. Let the hunger felt during the fasts amplify our collective consciousness, ground us in our shared humanity, and rekindle our commitment to mutual understanding and peace.

May this day of atonement be a catalyst for profound return, enabling us to forge a world where our shared values resonate louder than our differences, where our collective aspirations for peace overshadow the shadows of discord, and where the essence of T’shuvah illuminates our paths, guiding us to a future intertwined in shared destiny and harmonious existence.

About the Author
Randy is the Director of Philanthropic Engagement & Communication at Tzedek America. For the past twenty years, Randy has also been engaged in Jewish education as an educator for teens and adults, specifically spending the past 15 years teaching Holocaust history and the Jewish history of Poland. Randy is a member of the World Jewish Congress Jewish Diplomatic Corps and Speakers Bureau. Through Randy's communal work, he has also become involved in local politics and community outreach and has advocated for both communal and Jewish interests at the City and State level.
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