One City One County Program, August 24, 2017, City Hall, Tucson, Arizona

on Friday, 25 August 2017. Posted in Community Events

A Prayer delivered by Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon

Yesterday we began the Jewish month of Elul on the lunar calendar, the final month of the year.  Traditionally we blow the shofar, the ram’s horn each day of that month, to awaken our souls to repentance and return to God and the best we can be.  We had a lot of focus on the sun, this week; the Jewish calendar is based instead on the cycles of the moon, which is still mostly new, and so we begin our month based on that heavenly body, and at the beginning of the month the blast told everyone the date and time of beginning.

Please rise for the blowing of the shofar.  [Shofar is blown]

Today this seems entirely appropriate, not just because we need to do our own personal teshuvah, our own personal repentance and return, as we always do.  All of us, as human beings, fail to live up to the best we can be at times, and all of us need to rise from error and missed opportunities to do good to seek to better our lives and our relationships.  That is what Teshuvah means, in Hebrew, the time of year now when we return to who we truly wish to be, and seek to be that way all of the time.  It is a good individual goal, always, for each of us, for all of us, for ourselves and our families.

But today we also know that we need to heal our community, and our society.  We know that this process of return is something that can only happen if we choose to work together to restore human decency, responsibility, compassion, and respect to our society.  We know that we, in this great country, have an enormous capacity for good.  We know that Americans are, at heart, a nation that is generous, diverse, tolerant, and caring.  We also know that we have the capacity, as all human societies do, of being much worse than that.  It will be our choice which direction we go.  It is up to us to work to build on the innate sense of decency and fair-play that are at the core of who we really are as a nation and as a community.  This is why we are here today, to work on further developing the best instincts and actions of our society.

And the shofar blasts remind us of something else, too. 

The ram’s horn was not only used for calendaring purposes, and to remind us to return to the best of ourselves.  It was also used at times of warning, to alert everyone of trouble in town, violent danger.  It woke up the sleepers, provoked to action, pushed people to leave their unsafe comfort zones and act.

Charlottesville, Virginia, was a kind of shofar call by itself.  It woke up many of us to the fact that the elements in our society that respond to anger and hate alone, that are intolerant and hostile to difference, that judge people and groups on the basis of race and religious conscience and national origin are still here.  Many of us believed that such marches, and such violent riots, and such intimidation, were a thing of a darker past in our land of the free.  We did not think that in 2017 elements that would have felt at home in 1938 in Nazi Germany would march with impugnity in the home of the author of the Virginia Statute of Religious Liberty—that’s statute, not statue, by the way.

And yet they did, and caused violence, and murdered a woman, and wounded more and damaged our national conscience.

This must compel us now to action. 

Leadership does not have to come from the highest elected office in the land; indeed, clearly, it will not.  It can and will come from many other elected officials, and religious leaders, and businesspeople, and ordinary citizens.  And that leadership must work to assure that such outrages do not occur again.  And, even more importantly, that we work tirelessly to strengthen the bonds of our community, that we reach across all the boundary lines of religion, race, creed, political party, and philosophy to assure that our American society respects the innate humanity and dignity in every person.

That is our task now.  And the shofar calls us to fulfill it.

However we speak to and understand God, may it be God’s will.  And more importantly may it be our enduring will, now and going forward.

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