Contemplation. Reflection. Introspection. Solemnity. Forgiveness.

These are just some of the watchwords of the High Holidays, our yearly opportunity — responsibility — to gather ourselves, individually and as a people, to take stock of where we have been and where we are.

It is a time often focused on what has already transpired. We contemplate past acts. We reflect on our decisions and the actions that resulted. We seek to make restitution for our transgressions, and are given the opportunity to relieve the guilt of those who seek the same of us.

However, even as we ingrain ourselves in the solemn task of looking back, we often forget that these “Days of Awe” are also imbued with the light of hope. We eat apples and honey and look ahead to sweetness and fulfillment. We enjoy challot shaped in the round, a symbol of continuity and renewal. As Yom Kippur concludes, we bathe in the light of the Havdalah candle, we smell the fragrance of sweet spices and sip of sweet wine, and we are reminded that even this period of stark reflection vaults us forward into a new year full of possibilities.

And we are challenged.

We are challenged by the knowledge of our imperfections, by the struggles we have faced and the missteps we have taken. We are called by the shofar to stand and take heed. We are set back on our task to lead by example, to repair a world in pain, to heal those in anguish and to defend those who are maligned or persecuted simply for their existence.

The year 5777 has been one of change and upheaval. We have seen a sharp rise in anti-Semitism, xenophobia and hatred. The polarization of ideologies that has filled our political discourse with animus has only fueled further division among our population. We have seen incidents of spoken hatred devolve into acts of physical violence. We have felt fear, anguish and uncertainty.

But as Jews, we are given a gift: This time of reflection, but also of continuity; the hope of a new year; the prayer for forgiveness; the challenge to do better, to act better, to be better.

And we have another gift, a blessing that has seen us through the history of our existence: the gift of kehillah — community; the knowledge that we are each a part of Klal Yisrael, an eternal and unbroken connection to each other. We have the gift of being able to come together as a people, not always of one mind, but always of one bond. It is the gift that has sustained us for more than 5,000 years.

As we close the book on 5777 and look forward with aspiration to 5778, it is vital that we reflect on the importance of each other. We are obligated by our faith and our connection to stand up for one another, and for those beyond, who cannot stand up for themselves.

The challenges we face are real, but so is the light of hope that we carry with us.

As we reflect on the past year, we are each challenged to think ahead and ask how we can engage to do more and do better and reach farther in this coming year than ever before. The struggles of our time compel it. And our commitment to our future as a community, as a people and as a “light unto the nations” demands it.

This is the time to dig in. The opportunities to take action are there; you need only embrace them.

And, even as we look back, the time to begin moving forward is now. JN

The Jewish Community Relations Council emerged through the efforts of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Phoenix and the financial support of the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Phoenix. The council seeks to strengthen the local Jewish community through unity and collaboration.

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