There is a wonderful tradition that Elul, the month before the High Holidays, the month of Selichot (forgiveness) and reconciliation is an acronym in Hebrew that stands for two things: “I am for My beloved and My beloved is for me” (Song of Songs 6:3), and “Each one to his neighbour, and gifts to the poor” (Esther 9:22).
In Hebrew, this coming new year, 5776, spells out the Hebrew word Ta’asu, which means “you all will do something.” When you combine Elul with 5776, the message is “because you genuinely care, you will act!”
5776 will be the Year of Action. We are all specifically asked to act, to do, to make a difference.
I know that our Jewish community has a proven, excellent track record in tikkun olam and in performing acts of chesed, acts of compassion and loving kindness. Jews are involved in local lodges like Kiwanis and are actively involved in blood drives, food drives, warm clothing drives and local fundraising efforts, both in and out of the Jewish community. Of course this should continue to grow and develop.
However, in addition to these awesome chesed endeavours, I suggest that we devote this Year of Action to ourselves as Jews and invest in the other two pillars of Judaism: Torah (education, formal and informal), and Avoda (tefillah b’tzibbur (davening in shul).
We should strive to strengthen our commitment to daily, Shabbat and chag davening.
We should support and engage our kosher eating venues and promise that Ottawa kosher dining remains strong and gets stronger.
Synagogues should engage and empower our chevre and involve our young people and adults in leading tefillot, Torah reading and Haftarah chanting in our shuls. We should make every effort to bring our post-bar/bat mitzvah kids back to shul.
We should provide our teens with quality Jewish educational opportunities.
We, as adults, should commit ourselves to weekly Torah study through our many adult Jewish educational programs. Ottawa is blessed with numerous adult educational initiatives including JET, the Melton Mini School, classes at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre, synagogue shiurim, educational programs, and of course Limmud, Ottawa’s only pluralistic day of Jewish learning, when many voices are heard and Shivim Panim LaTorah (the 70 faces of Torah) are celebrated.
Our synagogue community should find ways to work together and share our most cherished common denominator: the study of Torah. I am especially proud of the adult education program co-sponsored by Agudath Israel Congregation and Congregation Machzikei Hadas. We are all working together on the Ottawa Shabbat Project and we should continue to work throughout the year and co-operate on other programs.
I was taught that, when you point a finger at someone, your thumb automatically points back at you. I commit myself to act and try to achieve the objectives mentioned above. It is Lo Bashamayim hi (it is not in heaven, it is within our reach). Let’s strengthen ourselves.