It was late August 1991. I was sitting on the airplane looking out of the window as takeoff began. I was leaving the United States for the very first time in my life. As the plane ascended slowly the skyscrapers of NYC started appearing smaller and smaller until the point that there was no real difference between anything or anyone below.
For me, it was a silent goodbye to a chaotic childhood in desperate need of repair. The feelings in my heart were a mixture of fear and excitement. I was heading to Israel the land of my heritage, however, besides the name I didn’t know her. I didn’t speak the language or understand their mentality. However, a resilient voice buried deep inside of me told me that I was heading in the right direction.
After a 15-hour flight which included a refueling stopover in Athens I had finally arrived. I exited the small terminal to find tens of people holding balloons and flowers in anticipation of soon seeing their returning loved ones.
A jealous voice inside spoke up saying wouldn’t it be nice if someone caring and loving was waiting to greet you? Wouldnt that be exactly what you need right now?
In response to that my resilient voice assured me not to worry one day, you will have many family members waiting to greet you here as well.
I continued to look for transportation amongst the public transportation options when a fellow student introduced himself with a friendly smile as Jonathan and offered to share a taxi to the school. I felt my resilient inner voice winking at me as if he was saying I told you everything will be alright.
Waiting for me at the administration office was a clean-shaven man with a warm smile who introduced himself to me with a firm handshake as Joe. I remember thinking to myself that he was the coolest Rabbi I ever met. Just a simple no frills friendly Joe.
The student body was a real mix of personalities and backgrounds many of them I knew from back home. I immediately recognized the groups. In one corner were the hockey Jocks and in another corner were the guys with long hair into heavy metal music. My group was the Brooklyn street kids wearing leather jackets speaking a kind of Jewish Italian English. In addition to the familiar groups, there were now a few new ones as well.
A Los Angeles group told us gang stories that made the streets of Brooklyn sound like an amusement park. Everyone was working hard to keep up their facade of toughness and strength so as not to be embarrassed about just how scared they were of being 5000 miles away from home with a return ticket many months down the road.
Slowly, however, the authentic warmth of the staff and the second-year students helped us let go of our coping mechanisms and accept ourselves for who we really are. It was now Rosh Hashanah a new year was starting and I felt clean of dirt and darkness and ready to slowly allow myself to connect with my inner core once again.
In this week’s Parsha Netzavim, Moshe tells the Jewish people that everyone is gathered here today from the water carriers to the wood choppers. Chasidus explains that this Parsha is always read before Rosh Hashana since the word today connotates the day of Rosh Hashana.
Water carriers and woodchoppers resemble the fact that on Rosh Hoshana the diversity of levels of classes of citizens is forgotten. We are one group waiting to coronate their creator as King of the Heavens and the Earth.
The blowing of the Shofer is a level of communication that is pre-verbal. It’s simple and uncomplicated like a child’s cry. This is all part of the process of returning to our inner infinite core. A place before things complicated our relationship with the divine. A place where we can allow ourselves to be our authentic selves vulnerable yet confident, caring, curious, calm, and compassionate.
Have a wonderful Shabbos and a Happy and Sweet New Year inscribed in the book of life!