Guest Column by Rabbi Peter Berg
This year will mark the 150th anniversary of Kehilat Gemilat Chased — The Hebrew Benevolent Congregation, affectionately known as The Temple. As such, it is a time for tremendous introspection as we look back on a small group of pioneers who started Atlanta’s now-thriving Jewish community.
Our history includes Leo Frank, “Driving Miss Daisy,” the Temple bombing in 1958, but it also includes heroic stories of rabbis and members who have left an indelible impact upon our city and Jewish community. Our history inspires our future.
Rosh Hashanah, too, is a celebration of time. In all other civilizations, time flows from yesterday to today to tomorrow. The past shapes the present, and the present shapes the future. We call it cause and effect: Something happened yesterday or last year or 10 years ago, and because of that, something will happen today; that something today will cause something to happen tomorrow. It is the past that determines the future.
Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik teaches that, for Jews, the future determines the present, and that defines the meaning of the past. Our job is to ask: Was something a tragedy or a spur to growth? Was something a mistake or a learning experience?
We can’t answer those questions simply by looking at what happened in the past. We can only understand yesterday in light of what we choose to do today and tomorrow. We are conditioned to internalize Freudian psychoanalysis, which teaches that we are shaped by our past, by our experiences in childhood.
Rosh Hashanah teaches: Don’t be stuck in the past. We are free to shape our future, and when we do, we go back and redefine the past.
This is the time of year during which we look deep inside ourselves. In what areas could we have accomplished more? We did not do enough to fulfill our capacities for love, for understanding, for enriching our knowledge base.
As parents and grandparents, we often demand obedience instead of inspiring it. We prefer to nurse hurt feelings rather than to put ourselves in the place of our supposed offenders. We want instant success rather than to put forth the slow but steady efforts to produce personal growth.
The shofar calls out to each of us to take a look in the mirror of consciousness. What do you see there? You are a little older than last year, but are you a little wiser, nobler and kinder?
Let us remember, as we pray to be inscribed in the Book of Life, that we are the ones who write our own stories. Let our stories of hope and glory inspire our deeds and lead the world to its ultimate redemption.
P.S.: You are cordially invited to a yearlong celebration of The Temple’s 150th anniversary, including the Alliance Theatre’s production of “The Temple Bombing” and a night of Jewish music with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Details to follow.
Rabbi Peter Berg is the senior rabbi at The Temple.