Growing up in in Southern New Jersey, my family was active in our small synagogue. I have many vivid memories of powerful experiences in that congregation on Shabbat and holidays and it was during those moments that I first began to think about being a Rabbi. One of my fondest memories was attending services on Shabbat and reading some of the powerful English prayers in our Siddur. There is one particular reading that I still recall and think of often. It is titled - I am a Jew - by Edmond Fleg, a French poet and novelist who lived in the early to mid-20th Century. Here are some excerpts from the poem:
- I am a Jew because Judaism demands no abdication of my mind.
- I am a Jew because Judaism asks every possible sacrifice of my soul.
- I am a Jew because wherever there are tears and suffering the Jew weeps.
- I am a Jew because the message of Israel is the most ancient and the most modern.
- I am a Jew because wherever the cry of despair is heard the Jew hopes.
- I am a Jew because the message of Judaism is the oldest and the newest.
- I am a Jew because the promise of Judaism is a universal promise.
- I am a Jew because, for the Jew, the world is not yet completed; we are completing it.
Today as we prepare for Shabbat and consider our preparations of the holidays next week, I want us to read over this prayer and consider what applies to our lives today. What is it that makes us most proud to be Jewish today? What Jewish cause are we most passionate about, are we the most dedicated to? In what ways to Jewish values influence our life? What is my own obligation to other Jews in our world? And if we want to be open and honest, what are amongst the greatest challenges to be Jewish today?
I want us to mindful of our answers as we go into the High Holidays next week so that these thoughts can impact our prayers and conversations over the next few weeks. Among the feelings that I have every year on the High Holidays is incredible pride; the fact that we are following a tradition that has lasted for thousands of years and that we are now making it our own. We are part of a people who will come together in similar ways all over the world and nearly the same time to recite the same prayers. And we all have our own beliefs, our own passions and our own prayers.
Tomorrow night, we take the next step in the High Holiday process by beginning the season of Selichot - the penitential prayers that include powerful words and music, to prepare us for the holiday season. Let's take some time over this weekend and in the days that follow to begin to think about what things in my life should continue and what things in my life need to change. And as we do, let's keep Edmong Fleg's words in mind so that we could possible create our own list of beliefs and we could complete our own list of statements "I am a Jew because . . . "
I look forward to seeing you soon at TJC
Rabbi Adam Feldman