I have always been proud of Judaism’s position, as I understand it, of respecting and honoring all cultures that revere life. What is sad is how people can become turned off to God due to some whose claim to know God’s will reflects harsh judgment of those who do not agree with them.
Our tradition teaches that God is much more flexible than they are, and those who dismiss the possibility of God’s presence because of such doctrines lose opportunities for wonderful partnership in doing what is truly God’s will in this world.
In our visit to Hawaii, (these words are written during this visit) I was reminded of the power of culture that can allow us to do good in people’s lives. We realized in this visit that what makes Hawaii such a paradise is not just the islands and their beauty. It is the people. In previous visits I assumed that the “Aloha” spirit, the warmth and welcoming nature of folks was in part their way of remembering that tourism was their number one industry.
This time, we realize that the Aloha spirit is deeply embedded in the culture. It is indeed spiritual and you see it not just in how folks treat visitors but locals as well.
We appreciate that Hawaiians struggle to maintain cultural values that are different from the ways we find in other states of America. We were musing how different it is to visit Florida, for example. As nice as that can be for visitors, it doesn’t “compete” with how you feel when you are visiting Hawaii.
In preparing for the Days of Awe, it occurs to me how fortunate we are to be in a culture that espouses values of kindness, caring and goodness, and is premised on the ability to change for the better.
Whatever influence American culture has had on us in terms of the competitive spirit, and ways that can set one against another, Jewish culture teaches us to work together to do good in life and to seek the good in others.
Jewish culture teaches that each person is a world to be treasured and nurtured. It creates times and contexts in which to raise children to become responsible partners with God and reflect that in how we treat one another. How fortunate we are to have a time and way to welcome young people to a world of responsibility in the unique ceremony of Bat or Bar Mitzvah.
And, the Days of Awe, which in the ritual sense can seem overwhelming, are an amazing opportunity to remember that we are never locked in to who we have been until now, especially traits we wish we could change. They remind us that no matter how bad things are, we are given the gift of changing where we are and what seems to be our destiny.
At the heart of the Amidah, the standing prayer, for the Days of Awe, is the Unetaneh Tokef prayer which posits that it appears as if things are out of our hands in the coming year: who will live…who will die…who will be troubled…who will find tranquility…and so much more…yet the outcome depends on us: Teshuva, (Change in direction [inadequately described as repentence]) Tefillla (heartfelt introspection [inadequately described as prayer]) and Tzedaka (doing what is right for others [inadequately described as charity]) can change the whole equation.
It was wonderful visiting Hawaii, not only for the cleansing relaxation, but also, to be reminded of the gifts I left behind: all of you with whom I look forward to sharing the Days of Awe…and our wonderful culture of partnership with God, Judaism, that allows us always to change for the better and to remember that each of us matters in what we do and with whom we share life’s journeys in doing our part to make the Aloha spirit, one of many universal values that can make life in this world a reflection of God’s presence in all of us…all the time.