Tag Archives: Rosh HaShanah

Rosh Hashanah 5778: Just Mercy

The pick-up truck was parked outside a prison in rural Alabama. It was festooned with Confederate flags and bigoted bumper stickers; there was a shotgun in a rack. Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer, fresh out of Harvard Law School, coming to visit a new client imprisoned on death row there. He noticed the truck and gave it a look before heading inside. As an African American in Alabama, Stevenson had good reason to worry about that truck, and his concerns were magnified when he met its owner—the very guard who greeted him at the prison gate. He had a Confederate flag tattooed to his arm, and he wasn’t smiling at Stevenson. The guard treated the young lawyer roughly—strip searching him and making him sign the visitor logbook, both against the established protocol for attorneys. The guard grabbed Bryan’s arm and told him that it was his truck, his prison, and his rules that would govern their visit.

Still, Bryan Stevenson persisted, because he was deeply motivated to help some of the most desperate people in our country—death row prisoners. He tells this and other stories in his powerful book, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. We learn how Stevenson set up the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, and how with great effort he exonerated Walter McMillian, an innocent man who spent six years on death row for a crime he did not commit. Continue reading

5775: A Green Rosh HaShanah

grannysmithCould it be that Rosh HaShanah is not a Jewish holiday? No—it couldn’t be! Rosh HaShanah is the Jewish New Year. On Rosh HaShanah Jews gather in Jewish houses of worship and say Jewish prayers. We hold our Jewish books, and we blow our Jewish horns. We even take one day and turn it into two—a uniquely Jewish magic trick. And then there’s all the food—the round challot, apples and honey—all of the Jewish soul foods. How could I suggest that Rosh HaShanah is not a Jewish holiday?

Yet that’s my question, could it be that Rosh HaShanah is not a Jewish holiday? I have three arguments to make the case: 1) the readings on Rosh HaShanah, unlike on Yom Kippur, address universal themes of family life; 2) the title Yom Ha’Din, Day of Judgment, indicates a universal experience of all people who live at the same time, and are affected by each other’s behavior; and 3) this day recalls creation and anticipates redemption. The bookends of history indicate our collective understanding of the value and the challenges of life. Together, these three arguments indicate that Rosh HaShanah is not just for Jews, and we err if we focus only on our insular concerns today. Let’s unpack each claim:  Continue reading