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JCF Blog

Is this the Fast I have Chosen - It Wasn't My Turn

Posted by: Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford on 9/24/2012
Every year at this time I prepare for the High Holidays by reading texts appropriate for the season. I try at least one new book each year, but there are also several sources I go back to year after year because they contain a message or messages that are particularly meaningful to me.

Most text sources for the high holidays provide inspiration or an opportunity to be contemplative about our lives. By nature, it is a time to think about the year past and the year ahead. A time to consider the mistakes we have made in our relationships and to ask those we have offended (intentionally or not) for forgiveness.

For me, the contemplation leading up to the High Holidays always has a way of grounding me in reality. Whether it was a good year or a bad year, I use the holidays as a reset button for my life. After all, whatever problems dominate my thinking at this time of year, they pale in comparison to the greater challenges of our world. That thought, in particular, always has a way of resetting my view of the world.

Have you ever seen the famous New Yorker Magazine cartoon of A New Yorker’s View of the World (New Yorker Magazine cover March 29, 1976)? The illustration is split in two with Manhattan’s 9th and 10th Avenues dominating ½ of the page on the near horizon. On the upper part of the illustration, off in the distance, one can see the Hudson River, “Jersey” and the Pacific Ocean. On the very edge of the foreseeable horizon the illustration depicts three small, flat, uninteresting and indistinguishable land masses labeled China, Japan, and Russia.

The piece was meant to parody the world view of New York City residents. Yet, in all parody lies a kernel of truth. Don’t we all become a little myopic in our own day-to-day lives? It’s easy for our view of the world to become dominated by what takes up the most time rather than what is most important. It is easy to forget about those in need because they are not obvious to us as we stroll the streets of our communities. But make no mistake about it, our Jewish community is filled with invisible need. The lonely nursing home resident, the family on the verge of homelessness because of unemployment, the hungry child, the unaffiliated Jewish single who is in jeopardy of losing connection to our faith or the troubled teen who has lost faith in life.

These people in need of emotional, financial or spiritual help are indistinguishable from anyone else who may walk among us. Yet we know they are there and if the Days of Awe teach us anything, it is that we as a Jewish people are meant not only to forgive, but to take care of each other.

In my preparatory reading for the High Holidays, there is one story that reminds me of this point; one story that I go back to again and again because of the power of its message. I include the story in its entirety below with the hope that you will find inspiration for the Days of Awe.

Is this the Fast I Have Chosen? - It Wasn’t My Turn

A teacher in Minnesota asked his class, “How many of you had breakfast this morning?” As he expected, only a few of them raised their hands. So he continued. “How many of you skipped breakfast this morning because you don’t like breakfast?” Lots of hands went up. “And how many of you skipped breakfast because you didn’t have time for it?” Many other hands went up. He was pretty sure by then that the remaining children hadn’t eaten, but he didn’t want to ask them about poverty. So he asked, “How many of you skipped breakfast because your family doesn’t eat breakfast?” A few more hands were raised. Then he noticed a small boy in the middle of the classroom, whose hand had not gone up. Thinking that the boy hadn’t understood, he asked, “And why didn’t you eat breakfast this morning?” The boy replied, his face serious, “It wasn’t my turn”. (From “Yom Kippur Readings – Inspiration, Information, and Contemplation”, Edited by Rabbi Dove Peretz Elkins, Jewish Light Publishing, 2008)

My wish for this New Year is not only that we have the wisdom to recognize those around us in need of financial, emotional or spiritual support, but that we remember our obligation to make the world better through our contributions of time, compassion and financial resources.

Shana Tovah to all. May our community have a good and sweet new year.


L'Shana Tova!

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