- Shana Tovah! Yesterday, I had the opportunity to give a short speech at Valley Ruach's (a Jewish community for young professionals in LA) high holiday services. I wish I had had a little more time to polish things up and focus the theme a bit more, but I wanted to share what I said here on the blog, in honor of the Rosh Hashana holiday. As part of Rosh Hashana, we put aside the day-to-day for a bit and reflect on how we can be better people and how we can improve ourselves in numerous ways, including morally and spiritually. To that end, I thought it appropriate to do the same on the blog. So, in lieu of movie or TV reviews, here are the Rosh Hashana thoughts I shared for the assembled group yesterday, edited slightly for the format:
DANNY'S 2011 ROSH HASHANA ADDRESS:
When we look around us – in our communities, in our country, around the world – there’s a sense lately that we’re in this strange state of limbo, a frustrating feeling that because of clashing ideologies, politics, and unbreakable deadlock, we’ve somehow gotten to the point where the sizable problems we face cannot be fixed. But here on Rosh Hashana, we are reminded that there is always an opportunity for a fresh start and a new beginning.
Many people would argue that religion and pragmatism don’t mix, but those people must not be familiar with the Jewish high holidays. Rosh Hashana is a time for personal reflection, but there is also a real sense of urgency. We have to better ourselves, right our wrongs, atone for our sins, actively work to make each year better than the last. To be inscribed in the proverbial Book of Life, we can’t just sit around and mope. We can’t even merely confess our sins. We have to actually plant the seeds for positive change.
We all want to improve ourselves, but I think that Rosh Hashana can also be a call to action to make an impact in the world around us. And I think that now, in particular, we as a generation have a chance to step up and to be a force for good. We can voice our opinions. We can be active participants in political and cultural discussions. We can be positive forces in our communities. Rosh Hashana is about renewal and change, so why not get to work? Here are some things that we can do, right now:
We can vote. In the next year there will be important political primaries. Isn’t it about time that the millennial generation was the key voting bloc in a major election?
We can spread our values. We can use social media and other digital avenues to talk, debate, be active in the cultural discussion. We all love to use Facebook or Twitter for our mundane observations, but why not shake things up a little bit? Create some controversy, get a debate going, comment on more than last night’s episode of New Girl. (and trust me, I am the worst offender here).
We can be smart. We can follow the news, keep up on the issues, and understand what’s going on in the world. We can be spiritual, we can be philosophical - but that should never come at the expense of facts, of science, of the truth.
We can unplug. I really think our generation is beginning to recognize that, as much as we love technology, we’re headed towards a level of saturation that is mentally and spiritually damaging. This is where we can learn from Jewish tradition. We have Shabbat to unwind and unplug, Rosh Hashana to reflect. So let’s occasionally talk instead of text. Let’s put down the blackberry or iPhone and pick up a book. As hard as we may work, let’s not be single-minded about it – let’s remember the importance of art, music, relaxation, and yes, sleep!
We can have a sense of humor. Comedy is all about perspective, and it’s that same sense of perspective that allows for compromise and for progress. Comedy reminds us of the absurdity of getting too caught up in things that are ultimately trivial.
We can be tolerant of others of all different backgrounds and beliefs. Really, the one thing that we should not tolerate is intolerance. With each generation we should be more open-minded, so let’s be sure to leave behind those who would rather move backwards and not forwards.
We can redefine what religious communities are and what role they play. I think many of us here love Judaism and its teachings and traditions, and want to see it survive and thrive. But we may also want something different out of Judaism than what we grew up with. And I think that’s why we can help to shape something that’s a mix of the traditional and the new – new types of specialized Jewish communities designed specifically to meet the needs of our generation. We can help to mold that new community and collectively decide what we want from it, and we can and should get involved and active.
These are just some of the things we can do - relatively easy things that might just chip away at the status quo and help to foster positive change. In a way, it’s daunting. There’s a part of me that would be plenty happy and comfortable living in a bubble of my own making. But there’s another part of me that wants to continually improve myself, and yes, there’s a part of me that wants to change the world. And I suspect that most of you are the same. So let’s use the occasion of Rosh Hashana to be ambitious, to think big, and figure out how we’re going to change the world for the better.
Thanks, and shana tovah!