[Sermon] The 17 Days of Repentance

6 October 2019 – 7 Tishri 5780

Jacob Swirsky, LJY-Netzer Movement Worker
High Holy Days 2019/5780

For LJY-Netzer’s new movement workers (myself, Francesca Kurlansky and Rosa Slater), August 27th to September 12th has served as our own taster of the 10 days that start on Rosh Hashanah and end with Yom Kippur, known as the 10 Days of Repentance. August 26th was the final day of Machaneh Kadimah for the tsevet (staff). Months of planning had come down to two fantastic weeks of camp, culminating in a day of cleaning, moving, and the coach ride home. It could be said that it also marked the final day of LJY’s year. It is fitting that the next day, our Rosh Hashanah, was our feedback day where every member of the tsevet was invited to the Montagu Centre to celebrate our amazing achievement and discuss what can be done to make next year even better. As with the Days of Repentance, we were not quite ready to jump into the new year without a chance to to rejoice, reflect and maybe even to repent.

The 10 Days of Repentance from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur is a strange moment in time. Time is central to Jewish ritual and much of our practice relates to the passing of time rather than buildings and objects. This time in particular is set aside to reflect on the past year, and the one to come. Despite (or perhaps because of) our busy and frantic lives, we choose to take a step back to examine our actions to each other. Attention is spent on the morality of our deeds; were we virtuous enough to be entered into the book of life? Did our yetzer hatov (good inclination) outweigh our yetzer hara (bad inclination)? We are the prosecution, witness, defence and defendant in our own trial but while we judge our thoughts and actions, there is no final conviction. We repent on our misdeeds, preferring rehabilitation over punishment. We strive to learn from our mistakes, determined to do better next year.

This process of reflection, recognition, repentance, and finally the determination to do better is always the focus for a new movement work team. Starting immediately after LJY’s year is over, it continues with feedback and culminates in seminars both in the UK and Israel that evaluate our past and vision for the future. Rosh Hashanah is typically a time of joy but a new year also finalises the end of many journeys and in LJY, our new year is one mixed with joy and sadness. While we finished on the crescendo of Machaneh Kadimah and our two summer tours, we also said goodbye to our movement workers: Ben, Ellie and Helen. We take great pride in the fact that LJY is a youth movement run by our members but it is still a sudden shock when three such influential and passionate people are here one day and gone the next.

The new LJY-Netzer team was then left to reflect and vision for ourselves. Beginning in the UK and finishing in Israel, we took stock of where we thought the movement was at, examining how our values were actualised in our events throughout the year. We visioned for the future, from small changes to big new projects, deciding how to put our mark on the movement while continuing the great work that countless movement workers had done before us. Our 17 days of repentance were perhaps far more uplifting than the real Aseret Yemei Teshuvah (10 days of repentance) as we were able to see our successes in the smiling faces of Kadimah’s chanichimot (participants) and, thanks to the intentional process, we understand the ways we can improve – a luxury real life is often unable to deliver. Fundamentally, making mistakes is an important part of LJY’s hadracha journey and we cannot expect ourselves to be perfect, whether we are leaders at the start of our journey, or movement workers coming to the end. We use our wealth of experience and learn as much as we can from our predecessors but like in all aspects of life, to learn from our mistakes we must first have to make them.

It is truly very difficult to judge oneself fairly and often it is far easier to punish ourselves instead of trying to learn from our misdeeds. For a youth movement we are able to recognise what we have done well and what we can do better without putting ourselves as individuals down. When evaluating our personal hadracha (leadership) we aim to separate ourselves as individuals and ourselves as madrichimot (leaders), remembering that everything can always be improved and we all have a lot of value to give. While this separation is not possible when we are indeed evaluating our inner selves during Yom Kippur, there is a lot to be taken from LJY’s method of repentance. Most importantly, it is that repentance is never the final step and as individuals there is always a chance for us to learn from our mistakes. The new year should be a time for rejoicing as well as reflection but the past should only be examined if it helps us to improve our future. As for the movement workers’ future, we have spent our summer simultaneously preparing ourselves for movement work and running our biggest event and after a good amount of reflection and repentance, all we have time to do is say ‘what’s next?’.

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