Every year, during the High Holy Days, when we recite “How many shall pass on, how many shall come to be; who shall live and who shall die,” we are reminded that life is precarious and precious. Every year, I look around my shul and I see the places where so many are no longer. I feel their absence. I look around my shul and I also see those whom I visited in the hospital or in their home. I feel grateful that we are able to again share the holidays together in good health. Of course, I am blessed when I look around and see new congregants or babies who were born since last High Holy Days.
This year, these words seemed to have taken on greater meaning. With the death tolls rising from the hurricanes, earthquakes and fires of the past several weeks, we feel keenly our mortality. While my own synagogue community was spared any human toll from Hurricane Irma, our campus was littered with trees and being without power, telephone, and internet for as much as ten days took a financial toll. And, yet, we also feel a deep sense of gratitude for the life that we have been given and enjoy, even in difficult times.
This year, my chapter Sigma Beta (University of California, Santa Barbara) will celebrate the 30th anniversary of our founding. As one of the Founding Fathers, I am looking forward to being with my brothers – many whom I have not seen since our 20th reunion. “How many shall pass on, how many shall come to be” takes on a slightly different meaning, as we think about how many cycles of brothers have gone through the chapter during their college experience. As much as we would like otherwise, from freshman pledge to senior graduate, the cycle continues. And yet, there is something that is constant. Our liturgy continues, u’teshuvah, u’tefillah, u’tzedakah ma’avirin et ro’ah hagezerah – repentance, prayer, and charity help temper that decree. Rather than understanding these literally, perhaps we can think more broadly. Repentance is our fraternity brothers calling us to task (calling us on our B.S.) when we have messed up and need to get back on track. Prayer is the Jewish thread that binds us together. And charity is our responsibility as men and as good citizens to care for our communities and our world. These values are constants that not only transcend our individual experiences or separate chapters but transcend time and space.
Wishing all my brothers a happy, healthy, prosperous, and peaceful Shana Tova. May each of you be inscribed for long life.
Rabbi Alan Litwak (UC Santa Barbara, 1989)
Temple Sinai of North Dade, North Miami Beach, FL