On the High Holidays when I was small, Jews wore clothes they were not comfortable in, in order to ask themselves questions they were not comfortable with.
Some things don't change.
On the High Holidays when I was small, the old people, when they weren't discussing the Old Country, would talk about the Holy Land, and peace, and how they would never see either, not in their lifetimes.
The rabbi, meanwhile, would talk about God's Book of Life, in which we all appeared, each of us with what we had done over the past year, and done wrong, and failed to do. On Rosh Hashanah, God would open the book for review, and at the end of the day of judgment, Yom Kippur, our verdict for the new year would be handed down, and the book, until the next fall, slammed shut.
Mindful of the Book of Life, I used to wonder what became of what we had left undone. This year, the Friday before Rosh Hashanah, I found out. Thanks to the United Nations.Thanks to the debate on Palestine:
Anything left undone becomes a lie.
Who'd have guessed that what's true in daily life is also true of the UN? Who'd have guessed that what was left undone when I was small, would still be undone these many, many years later?
When I was small and could take no more of the High Holidays, and when there was no baseball on the radio, I would open a book. One of them began with an observation by Pablo Picasso. "Art," he said, "is a lie which makes us realize the truth."
The same, I now realize, could be said of the United Nations. And because it is left undone, it can be said of Palestine as well. And because Palestine has been left undone, the same could be said of Israel. Left undone. Like all of us.
We pray to the same God - all of us, we and the Palestinians who are our cousins and neighbors, we pray to the lord of the second chance - but our belief is flagging. We are undone and unmoving. We cannot shake our grief and our failure and our guilt and our instinct for blame. We are undone by politics and by bad politicians. We are undone by warped religion and bad clerics. We are undone by our belief that only from our side do people see clearly and speak the whole truth.
When I was small, my favorite part of the High Holidays was singing with the old people to the prayer called Avinu Malkeinu, in part because there seemed some unique truth in it. "For Your own sake, Lord, if not for ours," the old people sang, "forgive us, let us off this hook, rescue us from ourselves."
Avinu Malkeinu, Our Father, Our King, they sang, these people whose own parents were long dead, these people who had never placed faith in the nobles who had once ruled over them, these people whose own voices were already fading. Avinu Malkeinu, Shma Koleinu, Hus V'Rahem Aleinu. Hear our voice. Help us hear the voices of others whose stories and tragedies are different. Help them to hear ours.
Hear our true voice, the one from close to the heart inside. Avinu Malkeinu, have pity for what we do and are and try and fail at, and what we give ourselves too much credit for. Give us permission to start again. Give us, this day, a break.
Avinu Malkeinu, haneinu v'aneinu, ki ein lanu ma'asim. Avinu Malkeinu. Cut us a deal we can live with. Avinu Malkeinu, help us find, at long last, an answer we can use, a way out of this, even though we have nothing to show for all our trying. Because we have nothing to show for all our trying..
God who does not make mistakes, God whom we bitterly and consistently disappoint, God whose land always falls short of the arrangement we feel would somehow dress the wounds in our souls - dress the wounds in our souls.God who created human differences and human disagreement and human compromise, help us write a new document for every one of us. A Book of Life.
Show us Your face in the faces of the people we find it easier to look away from and call enemy. Show them Your face in ours. For the same reason. Show us what we least want to see: That we look the same.
Avinu Malkeinu, Aseh Imanu Tz'dakah V'Hesed, V'Hoshieinu We talk big, but we are, all of us, small and fallible and wounded. Be kind. Teach us finally to grow tired of our own lies. Teach us to finish what we start. This year, in Jerusalem, show us what a New Year actually looks like. Avinu Malkeinu, hoshiyeinu. Rescue us from ourselves.
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