Dear Chevrei, 

With the usual mixture of joy and trepidation, we find ourselves in the month of Elul – meaning that, in just a few days (the evening of September 20th, to be precise), a new Jewish year will begin. You and I will mark our 25th Rosh HaShanah together – joy of joys! And what, after 25 years, can I tell you that you haven’t already heard? Oy, the trepidation of expectations! 

We are taught that the letters of the month of Elul – alef, lamed, vav, lamed – represent the statement found in Song of Songs: Ani l’dodi v’dodi li – I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine. Elul, the month preceding Rosh HaShanah, is a special gift: an entire month for us to turn our hearts toward one anoth-er, to render both apologies and forgiveness, and so prepare ourselves for a new year. 

That month is partially gone, but nearly three weeks of it remain. I humbly ask your forgiveness for my many slights and unfulfilled promises. I pray to do better. 

As I write this, the great eclipse has yet to happen. And yet, all manner of other shadows have fallen on our country. We’ve seen it in the tightening of immigration laws, in the maltreatment of people of color, in political rhetoric , and in the terrifyingly bold expression of hate in Charlottesville, Virginia. 

But every cloud has a silver lining. As the haters have risen, so do we rise to meet them, to defeat them, to answer their hatred with love. 

The night following the murder of Heather Heyer and the injury of nineteen others in Charlottesville by a “white nationalist,” a demonstration against hate was held right here in Bakersfield. A motley crew of close to two hundred people – all races, all colors, all kinds – gathered at Mill Creek Park. Bearing signs and chanting slogans (“We are Heather! Heather is us!” “Black lives matter!” “No hate. No KKK. No Fascist USA!”), we made our way to the Liberty Bell on Truxtun Avenue, where we were regaled by an assortment of speakers, ranging from a representative of the NAACP to representatives from Faith in Kern, among other worthies. 

While it feels good to come together in common cause, it’s never enough just to march and rally. As in-dividuals, we need to be ever vigilant, and willing to go out on a limb to defend the humanity of our fellow humans. We need to be ready to intervene, not only when a Sikh is mistaken for a Muslim, but when an individual Muslim is wrongfully blamed for the deeds of Islamic extremists. We need to campaign for just and fair immigration laws that do not separate families, but allow upstanding persons from all over the world to join us, regardless of what languages they speak. We need to work to improve the learning ex-perience of every student in every school, especially in our public schools, so that we can end the sys-tem that labels children irredeemable and funnels them into our prisons. 

We who were once vilified and dehumanized by the Nazi regime, who were driven out and massacred throughout history because we were somehow “different; “ we, whose Torah commands us to love the stranger as well as our neighbors, are also commanded not to stand idly by when our neighbor’s blood is shed. 

As we approach the promise, and the uncertainties, of 5778, I pray that we find the chutzpah and the for-titude to do what is right: to stand up for love, to guard against hate, and to try to see and protect the di-vine candle that is every soul. 

My family joins me in wishing each of you a Shanah Tovah u’Metukah – a good, sweet New Year. 

Rabbi Cheryl Rosenstein