Rabbi Dana Benson
My wish for this coming Jewish year is that we will have to hold fewer moments of silence as a response to tragedies throughout our world, to not fear what I will hear as I turn on the news, and to create more opportunities to come together as a larger community to hope for a better world. If there are world tragedies, I hope that through our work at Hillel UW we can create spaces for students and Jewish young adults to come together, to reflect, and to take action.
As I prepare for the High Holidays and think back over the past year, I can’t help but think of the words of Unetaneh Tokef. Each year this poem reminds me of the fragility of life. When I spoke the words of this poem last year, I had no idea what this year would hold. I had no idea of what amazing joys and adventures were to come, but I also had no idea of the sadness and pain that the year would bring as well. This poem calls us to attention to recognize that with each passing year we have no idea what will happen by the next time we reach the High Holidays. As I reflect on the wishes I have for this coming year, it only feels right to frame them within the structure and language of Unetaneh Tokef.
May more people truly live, and fewer die.
May more of us embrace the time we have, and waste less time on material matters.
May fires burn in our hearts to make a better world, and may water cleanse the sadness of seeing a world that is broken.
May fewer people be plagued by hunger and thirst, and more people be hungry for knowledge and thirst for change.
May we be shaken by injustice, and not drown in sadness.
May we know when to take time for rest, and when to journey into new opportunities.
May our teshuvah help us to act with more compassion toward ourselves and others. May our t’filah bring us together to spiritually recover, find community, and lead us toward tzedakah and actions that will help us repair our world in the year to come.
Rabbi Sholom Ber Levitin
This year I wish for all of our homeless brethren to find sustainable employment and appropriate housing. This will create a ripple effect that will extend to the rest of the country. If this happens, aside from the betterment of society, there is also a cosmic effect on the spiritual balance of the world.
I also wish for new medical initiatives and scientific breakthroughs. Our community is full of amazing, intelligent scientists capable of advancing treatments and even curing awful diseases. No parent should ever lose a child to cancer or other devastating conditions.
I hope that everyone will realize their potential for living intensely in the moment. I hope people will develop their relationships with their fellow beings and with the Almighty. The power of prayer is incredible; this and in-depth Torah learning will develop one’s soulful sensitivities to recognizing and proactively providing for other people’s needs.
It is very important to recognize the need for our community to bond together in times of hardship and joy; in doing so, we can facilitate the growth and development of our people into a strong, vibrant collective of people with the same goals and desires. With this philosophy we can rise above all turmoil and become truly blessed. I wish, also, for mutual respect for each other, even at moments of extreme disagreement. Pirke Avot brings models of strong differences to approach solving issues that impact the community. Those arguments “were all for the sake of Heaven.” This seems unattainable, but with humility, prayer, and patience, it can be achieved. It is important to be respectfully principled.
I wish for peace in the Holy land of Eretz Yisroel, and throughout our world. Above all else I wish for the fundamental belief in the coming of the Messiah. In that era, says Maimonides, “there will be neither famine or war, envy or competition, for good will flow in abundance and all the delights will be freely available as dust. The occupation of the entire world will be solely to know God.”