Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Sweet New Year

Last year, at around this time, I was celebrating the Jewish High Holy Days with my family.

It was a remarkable Yom Kippur, as I sat up there on the bimah with my wife on the holiest day in Judaism, and had the honor of removing the Torah from the ark.  It felt more than a little bit magical.  I'm sure others of my Presbyterian pastor colleagues must have had that privilege at some point, but I think it's safe to say this ain't a typical occurrence. This generally doesn't happen when you're not just a random one a' tha goyim, but a professional gentile.

This week, as the new year began, I was up on the bimah again with my wife for Rosh Hashanah.  Again, I took the Torah from the ark and gave it to her, and again watched her circle the synagogue, the congregants kissing their prayerbooks and touching them to the covered scroll.

It was the Head of the Year, the point where those days of repentance and change begin.  It's the point where we both celebrate the promise of a year to come, but also look to the year that has passed, thinking of the ways we might change for the better in the coming year.  It's a time for intentional reconciliation, for seeking ways to heal those things that were broken.

What I reflected on, in this new year, was the challenging year it was for relationships between Judaism and my denomination.  The choice of our General Assembly to selectively divest from three American companies providing security/military resources to Israel was a choice to push a particularly large red button.  Though I know people of good conscience who disagree, it wasn't a hateful choice, or an anti-semitic choice, or even a choice that was meaningfully anti-Israel.  It couldn't be, any more than choosing not to invest in Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, or the Corrections Corporation of America is bad and anti-American.  If you have a socially responsible investment policy based on your faith principles that prevents you from profiting from war or incarceration, that's just where you end up.

But rationally explicable though it was, it was a button nonetheless, the sort of thing that tends to cause a binary reaction.

That was early summer, and the heat and light of debate and missives and editorials burned bright and fierce.  "This is the thing we are fighting about right now!"  But now months have passed, and the chatter and hum has disappeared, its afterglow as difficult to detect in the collective subconscious as the cosmic background radiation from the dawn of our sliver of the multiverse.

Though it had been a hard year, now it is a new one.  And at the dawn of that year, there I was, a Presbyterian pastor, up again on the bimah.  Still in relationship, just as I'd been the year before.  My wife and I sat close, and shared her prayerbook.  We read and chanted the prayers together, her Hebrew solid and confident, mine mostly there most of the time.  We sang the shema, and all the sacred songs which I know by heart after 23 years of High Holy Days, 23 years and change since we stood under a canopy on that very bimah.  I stood by the opened ark, and listened to the shofar.  I heard the rabbi's voice mingle with the sound of my older son's baritone ringing from the choir.  I stood around at the reading of the Torah, and watched as my younger son held the microphone for the rabbi's wife as she chanted.

It was as sweet as honey on my soul.

I'm hoping, in this year 5775, that things are a little sweeter for all of us.