I don’t mean to brag, but I now have my own personal shofar.
It lives inside my head.
It took up residence inside me at the time of the presidential election. The actual shofar of the high holiday services rouses us to awareness and greater responsibility when we are here together, and then it leaves us alone. This other shofar – my personal shofar — demands my attention every time there is breaking news, which these days is pretty much all the time. I can’t turn it off. Unlike cell phone service, it even follows me onto the subway! It reminds me over and over that I could and should be doing more and better. It is an exhausting companion.
Before the election, I was a responsible citizen. I voted diligently, I gave money to good causes and candidates, I signed petitions. I made a contribution to the world’s future through my teaching at Barnard, and through my joint efforts with my husband to raise good kids and take care of the members of our extended families. I cared about the world’s problems a lot, from a safe distance.
After the election, my personal shofar let me know that this was not nearly enough.
In response, last December I got involved with a direct action group called Rise and Resist. I have been planning and participating in protests, making phone calls, writing letters, and attending town halls and press conferences. In engaging in activism for the first time in my life, I have joined the ongoing struggle to make justice, peace, and love dominate human affairs. I am attempting to help what Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature” defeat a frightening array of more sinister tendencies.
The past year has brought this struggle between our better and our worse impulses out into the open in America. We are hardly unique in facing a test like this – other countries have faced similar tests in the past or are facing them currently. And it is hardly the first time our country has been tested. But this test is ours. We are being asked to decide what kind of people we are – both individually and collectively — and what kind of country we want to have because we have mounting evidence that various kinds of hatred and injustice will gain strength if we let them.
I find some cause for hope in the very visibility and urgency of our challenges. We are being forced to confront our country’s unfinished business and everywhere people who, like me, were previously complacent are standing up for integrity, equality, diversity, science, and a broad sense of community and responsibility.
We humans can decide how we want to behave. Rosh Hashanah is a time when we are most conscious of that fact.