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Rosh hashanah

Ayelet Cohen photo A Message from Rabbi Ayelet S. Cohen

At the end of seven years, you are to make a Release [shmita]. Deuteronomy 15:1

After an incredibly difficult summer in Israel and the global Jewish community, we are ready to begin a new year. This Rosh Hashanah provides us with an even deeper framework for renewal, within the ancient construct of the shmita (sabbatical) year, when according to biblical law the land of Israel must lie fallow.

Biblical precepts describe this seventh year not only as a rest for the land, but also for the Israelite people. Planting and harvesting were forbidden during the shmita year, but everyone—landowners and workers alike—was free to gather the produce of the land to satisfy their hunger. The year provided an ancient system of sustainable agriculture and also an antidote to poverty and social inequality. In the seventh year debts were canceled, offering people who had slipped into poverty a chance to hit the reset button.

What does shmita, an ancient land-of-Israel agricultural practice, mean for us as contemporary urban dwellers? We can ask ourselves how we might reimagine our lives and our society if we reconsidered our relationship with rest and renewal, agriculture and the environment, plenty and scarcity, and debt relief. What might we accomplish if we didn't try so hard? Will there be enough for us if in this year everyone has equal access? Sometimes it is the pause that allows us to look at things with fresh eyes, to be renewed, refreshed. In those pauses can be the greatest flowering.

Shmita comes to remind us that the earth does not belong to us; we are merely its stewards. It is incumbent upon us to treat the earth with care, reverence, and humility. If we honor those practices and translate them into the ways we live our lives and interact with those at the margins, we could truly transform our community.

In an incredible collaboration across the JCC, spearheaded by the Laurie M. Tisch Gallery, the David H. Sonabend Center for Israel and the Center for Jewish Living, our lobby has been transformed into an urban oasis with Incubating Ideas and Cultivating Connections: The Greenhouse of Ein Shemer. As you walk through these familiar doors, pause. Notice the flowering of what is usually static. As you begin this new year, pause. Notice the flowering that can be possible when we stop trying so hard and simply let things grow.

L'shanah tovah. May it be a sweet and healthy new year.
Rabbi Ayelet S. Cohen
Director of The Center for Jewish Living

Jake and PopPop Rima Starr Amy Jordan
Community Stories

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