WATCH: Atonements and Apologies, 5773

Every year around this time – the Jewish High Holy Days – I send out a note of reflection. This year, I’ve made use of my resources and friends and put the whole thing to video!

However, if you are still inclined to read, here is the text…

Hello and Shana Tova. A Happy New year to all of you. Each year, in the ten days between the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana and the Holy Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, the Jewish people traditionally reflect on the year that has passed. For the last few years, I have written down my thoughts, and shared them with you, my family, my friends and my community.

I can say, without any hesitation, that this has been quite a year, full of highs and lows, surprises, and even some disappointments. Some of my dearest friends had some of the dearest children, and some of my dearest friends lost some of their dearest loved ones. If I am talking about you, I am sure you’ll know, and you’ll also know that I share in your greatest joys and in your deepest sorrows. The world seems to have gotten a lot more complicated: the decisions so small, the consequences so big.

They say every action has a reaction … but often, they are not so easy to see.

Can we be aware of the consequences? …not just those at arm’s length, but those at nuclear arm’s length, as well?

Can we inform each other responsibly – through traditional media and social media – without simply feeding the hype?

This last year, I carried with me the message of a true friend who once said to be me, “be a well, not a fountain.” By default, I’m a talker … listening comes less naturally. But this year, I had the pleasure of meeting some fascinating people in some fascinating corners of the world. They told me their stories, I listened, and shared them with you:

A Syrian man my age waiting on the Turkish border for his elderly parents fleeing the violence to come join him. I was there when they arrived after one month. The father – barely walking – cried as he uttered the words, “It was a living hell.”

The CEO who spoke modestly of his success and revealed a sincere hope that a humble union of private and public interests can genuinely bring good to the world.

The young Israeli and Palestinian protestors who demonstrated in solidarity for a cause they believed in … their arms linked, even in the face of tear-gas.

A Spanish teenager considering a secondary education abroad, reluctant to leave the country he knows and loves, but disillusioned by the economic opportunity it presents.

It is, of course, easy to be disappointed by the failures one sees in the world. It is harder to be honest about one’s role in those failures … and the apparent conflict of interest found between the pursuit of self, and selflessness.

Can we strive for personal wealth, while still championing economic equality and greater welfare for those facing economic misery?

Can we hear the echoes of our forefathers, and still acknowledge and respond to the cries of those who fault them?

Can we consume, and consume, and consume, and still care about the mark we leave on our environment?

We strive to look forward yet find ourselves haunted, tied-down and limited by our past. Reason tells us to lead – not by the tail – but by the head. Yet it seems too often we define our actions by what’s behind us, instead of what lies ahead. So this year, let us look straight-on, unshackled by our previous actions but aware of their future implications, and what we can do to affect them.

Michael Jackson sang about starting with the “man in the mirror.” And the film “Pay it Forward” urged us to do just that, to pay it forward. I opt instead for something much simpler, something I can start – we can start – effectively immediately: a random act of kindness a day. Picking up a piece of trash on the street, holding the door for someone … just because, wishing a stranger good morning, helping an elderly person with his or her bags, taking an extra second to say “I love you” to the people who deserve it.

We should allow kindness to infest our bodies and our environments. Together we can change our own worlds, and our collective world. The musical “Rent” declares, “The opposite of war isn’t peace, it’s creation.” I say it’s kindness; responding to one’s enemies, not with a fist of force, but with a hand of grace. The former may take strength, but the latter takes heart.

Each year we repent for a number of transgressions: deception, arrogance, gossip, and stinginess are among them. But they all boil down to one thing: kindness, and the sin found in its absence.

This year I beg for your forgiveness if at any moment I was unkind – knowingly or unknowingly. And I forgive you for any unkindness you may have shown towards me –, willfully or unintentionally. May no mark of yours against me be considered in your judgment. And may we all be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life for another year of joy and blessings, opportunity and growth, new challenges and new questions, renewed happiness and renewed kindness.

L’shanah tova tikatevu v’taihatemu.

(For those who are curious, previous years’ notes can be found by clicking here.)