3 October 2014
Erev Yom Kippur 5775
As we prepare to enter Yom Kippur, I want to share something a little different with you this week. Instead of my usual thoughts and reflections, I am including in today’s message the meaningful words of two other people. As I work through my own cheshbon hanefesh (soul-accounting), taking stock of myself as a person, a parent, and a high school educator, I am mindful of the responsibility that I have, that we have, toward our children and our students. I face this responsibility, this profoundly human and, therefore, necessarily imperfect work, with yir’ah—reverence and awe.
These two pieces speak in different ways to our role as parents and teachers and to the experience of our children. The first is a blog post by Talia Cooper, program director of Ma’yan and a youth educator, whose post offers parents and educators an alternative version of the Yom Kippur “Al Chet—For the sins we have committed . . .”.
The second piece, included below, was written by Gann Academy senior Maya Sinclair, who shares a personal reflection and prayer that she delivered on Rosh Hashanah in front of her congregation. She gives us a powerful and emotional window into the experience and psyche of a Jewish American high school senior working to keep her sense of self intact as she goes through the college application process.
May God grant all of us the patience, wisdom, and compassion to do right by our next generation.
Shabbat Shalom and G’mar Chatimah Tovah,
Rabbi Marc Baker
Rosh Hashanah Prayer by Maya Sinclair, Gann Academy ‘15
Hi. My name is Maya Sinclair, and I am a senior at Gann Academy. Throughout high school, I have really struggled with coming to terms with other peoples’ perceptions of me. As rumors spread like wildfire, I would often take the mean things people would say to heart, and, as a result, my own self-worth would plummet. Luckily, as I start my senior year, I am learning not to internalize these things—as long as I am being the most honest version of myself, that is all I can do.
However, in the midst of the college application process, I find all of these issues arising again. Every night, as I fill out the online form that will determine my fate, I wonder to myself: how can I fully encompass who I am as a person in only 650 words? What if they don’t like me? What if they don’t think I’m involved enough? I am only 17—I don’t know who I am yet. I can’t write about a time when I changed the world around me because I have not yet had an experience of that breadth and importance. Does that mean I am not good enough? Should I make something up? Does this make me a bad person? Has all of my parents’ money spent on my education gone to waste? As my peers and I spend hours agonizing over what will happen in the near and far future, old tensions can arise, and people’s competitive sides can really come out. Many people struggle with being able to be happy for each other—they fear that, if their friends succeed, it will be at the expense of their own success.
I know in my heart that college admittance does not determine one’s self worth. As in social settings, it is imperative that we be our most true and honest selves and do the best that we can, and, if that is not good enough, it does not mean we are not benevolent people. It does not mean we are not contributing community members, loving sons and daughters, and intellectually curious students. Right now, the only judgment that truly matters is that of God. Today and over these next 10 days, let us all use this heightened awareness to be the best people we can be, not only to those around us, but also to ourselves.
Yehi ratzon mil’fanecha, may it be your will, Lord, that we find it within ourselves to love ourselves for who we are and what we can do rather than for who we are not and what we are incapable of. May we all be written in the book of life. Shana Tova.