One of the most stirring prayers in our High Holy Day liturgy is the “Unatana Tokef,” which we will recite just before the “Kedusha” during Musaf. The melody and words are haunting. It is a recitation of who will be born and who will die; who shall attain their days of life and who will not. Who will find tranquility and who will be tormented? It is as if the rabbis who composed this centuries-old piyyut had us and COVID-19 in mind.
Against this litany of trials and tribulations, the prayer concludes with tremendous hope as we pray u’Tefillah(prayer), u’Teshuvah (repentence), u’Tzedakah (charity) will avert the severe decree. This powerful prayer gives us the unique opportunity to alter our lives in the year to come.
Tefillah is not merely prayer. It is spiritual belief that we are created in the image of God and have the opportunity to live our lives with a higher purpose. Teshuvah is more than repentance. It is a return to the Jewish values and ethics that inform and guide our lives. And Tzedakah is far greater than charity. It is a commitment to seeking justice in the world.
I believe that when we come out on the other side of the pandemic to our “new normal,” we will have a community and world that will appreciate the power of Tefillah, Teshuvah and Tzedakah.
Why do I believe this?
Because I see it every day at our Hillels of Georgia. I see it in the passion, dedication and commitment of our Hillel students. I see it in their care, concern and compassion for themselves, their peers and their communities. I see it in their diligent efforts to create a more just society free of racism, bigotry and hatred in all its ugly forms. And I see it in their pride and joy in being Jewish, celebrating dynamic Jewish life and support for Israel.
May we be inscribed in the Book of Life for a Shanah Tovah u’Metukah … a happy, healthy and sweet New Year filled with all of God’s blessings.
Elliot B. Karp is CEO of Hillels of Georgia.