The first two Days of Awe seemed to weigh more heavily at my synagogue this year. On Rosh Hashanah, the fatigue in the sanctuary was palpable, the congregational singing less vigorous. There were even a few more empty seats than usual. I wasn’t the only one to notice that people seemed weary.
Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and the seven days in between are a time of intensity. Such is the beauty, and the burden, of this span that we need an entire year to recover – any more than 10 days might be too much to handle. And yet, as 5775 dawned, it felt as though the past few months have been an extended version of the Days of Awe. If some were finding it hard to get across the finish line, who could blame them?
The kidnapping and violent murder of Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaar, and Eyal Yifrach in June shocked the Jewish world. The blanket of rockets that subsequently fell across Israel exacerbated the trauma, as did the IDF’s Operation Protective Edge, which had families wondering whether they would ever see their sons and daughters return alive from Gaza’s terrorist dystopia. Sixty-six never did. By the end of the summer, more than 2,000 had died in the conflict.
The agony in Israel and Gaza was compounded by events in Europe. The summer of anti-Semitism began May 24 when a gunman killed four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels and continued with anti-Israel demonstrations across the continent. As the war raged, the attacks against Jews outside Israel increased in volume and ferocity. Europe’s Jews felt as though they were under siege, and in Paris in July, they literally were trapped inside a synagogue as thugs threw stones and bricks at them.
When the war ended in August, so, too, did the demonstrations in Europe. As the new year approached, it appeared there might be some respite for Jews around the world, a chance for us to catch our collective breath. But then, on Friday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas stepped up to the dais at the United Nations in New York and accused Israel of genocide and a “most abhorrent form of apartheid.” And so 5775 appeared to begin much as 5774 ended, with malicious and fabricated claims against Israel.
As the Days of Awe continue, culminating Saturday with Yom Kippur, the threat to Israel and the Jewish Diaspora is impossible to ignore. The physical and mental stresses of this summer have taken their toll. But it’s important to remember that existential anxiety is only part of what this season is about. The Days of Awe also present a call for renewal, and an opportunity to honour and celebrate community.
In that spirit, this week’s edition of The CJN features a healthy dose of optimism. There’s the dramatic story of a Jewish woman who survived poverty and abuse with the help of her community (see cover story, page 8), and a powerful essay by author Mark Sakamoto on the importance of forgiveness (see page 10). Here’s hoping 5775 is filled with more of these positive messages, and fewer of the kind that marred 5774. — YONI