I am not exactly the right person to be wishing everyone a Happy New Year in the month of September. For Christians like me, the new year begins with the first Sunday in the season of Advent, which is not until late November. I am hoping, though, that the Jewish community will allow me to celebrate Rosh Hashanah with them this year.
The first of the High Holy Days, Rosh Hashanah, is a two-day celebration of the Jewish New Year. The holiday is traditionally thought of as the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve, to whom the Lord gave responsibility for the care and well-being of creation. The ram’s horn, the shofar, is sounded to mark the all-good-things-are-still-possible occasion. Apples are dipped in honey to express the hope of a sweet new year.
There are two reasons that I want to ride in on the coattails of Rosh Hashanah this year. The first is plain and simple: Alvin Sugarman, our beloved colleague at Higher Ground. The entire Atlanta community is in deep need of the return to health of the one and only Rabbi Sugarman. I am writing in his place this week because he is riding in the up-and-down rodeo of recovery from recent heart surgery. (He was pleased to receive a new bovine valve, as opposed to the porcine variety).
I have lived in Atlanta for a long time, and I will simply say that our city has never had a more significant religious and moral leader than Alvin. Ever. Along with all of you, I am wishing Alvin and Barbara Sugarman a new year full of good health and happiness.
The second reason I am longing for a fresh new year this September is that our world is in such desperate need of new beginnings. The United States is on the highest alert since 9/11 due to the increased threat of terrorist attacks. In too many places around the world, ethnic and religious hatred has gotten the upper hand. Anti-Semitism has broken out in vicious new ways in Europe. Every day ISIS and other extreme groups commit atrocities that are unspeakable and antithetical to human decency.
Within our own country, increasing levels of political polarization and racial tension sour the atmosphere. Within our own city, Atlanta Symphony musicians and the administration of the ASO are engaged in a stand-off that threatens, not only the season, but the future of the orchestra itself.
If ever there were a September when turning over a new leaf in the book of our life together would be in order, this is it. If ever there were a time to remember that peace among the peoples of the earth and the well-being of the created order were and are the pillars on which the future of the human race will be built, the time is now.
Some years ago, Rabbi Sugarman and I led a worship service together. When time for the closing blessing came, he took my hand and held it up above our heads. He said to the great congregation before us, “Join hands with the person standing next to you and raise your hands high.” Then, he said, “Look around at one another.” He paused, then said, “This is as close as you and I are going to get on this earth to the presence of God.”
May the sweetness of a reconciled human community be our hope for the new year, and may each of us do what we can to make peace in our little corner of the earth.
– Joanna M. Adams