It sounds almost like a beauty pageant question: If today were the world’s birthday, what would you wish for it?
Judaism truly does have a birthday for the world, and that day, or days, is Rosh Hashanah.
The Machzor, the prayer book we read during the High Holiday season, literally translates into “cycle.” Within it is the prayer Hayom Harat Olam, or “the world stands at birth.”
During the Hebrew month of Elul, the period before Rosh Hashanah, it is traditional for Jews to take the time to think and reflect on their deeds and actions, make a plan on how to improve upon themselves and, in turn, how to improve the world around them for the next orbit around the sun.
As part of this preparation, the Detroit Jewish News posed this question to its readers, to their families, children and grandchildren, and the Detroit Jewish community at large.
According to Genesis, when God created the world, He knew it would be incomplete. Imperfect. That’s why he created us: humans, to enter into a partnership with Him to look after the Earth and repair it.
A Big To-Do List
These days, the Earth — from the global to the most local levels — needs lots of healing. From the broken schools in Detroit where only 47 percent of adults are functionally literate to our polarized and ugly presidential election cycle.
From the fires in California and floods in Louisiana to the spread of the Zika virus, the plague of opioid addiction now in almost every town in America, and the slaughter in Syria and Iraq creating the worst refugee crisis since WWII.
In the Jewish world, we face growing anti-Semitism from the college campus to a global level as the world grapples with growing radical Islam.
Indeed, the problems are overwhelming.
Are we truly up to the task of being God’s partners in a time like this?
But we must. Today’s problems provide us with plenty of food for thought as we prepare spiritually for the Jewish New Year of 5777.
So, imagine if the world could wish. Would it wish to heal itself of climate change, the threat of species loss and the melting of the polar ice caps? Does the world care about the problems man has hoisted upon itself, like war, terrorism, disease, hatred and bigotry?
It has been four years since I was first assigned to write for the Detroit Jewish News as a newcomer preparing myself and my family for our first year in Detroit, starting with our first High Holiday season. As I have come to settle down and actually feel my Detroit roots start to grow, my own wishes take not a global but an urban and suburban scale.
In my own backyard, I wish for my neighborhood to be a safe and welcoming place where kids play, and bees and butterflies hum around in gardens free from pesticides.
My wish is for the city and all the citizens of Detroit to experience a remarkable comeback — to have a fair shot to be able to compete and succeed. And that truly cannot happen until the schools come back.
Over the years writing here, I am happy to cover members of the Detroit Jewish community who take the time to volunteer to help Detroit schoolchildren with reading and math, who set up a back-to-school store for the neediest children to have new clothes and gear for that first day of school through the National Council of Jewish Women, and the bar and bat mitzvah students who donate new and gently used sports equipment so Detroit kids can experience the same joy of athletics they do on the field. Not to mention the legions of teen and millennial Jews giving their time to Detroit through organizations such as PeerCorps and Repair the World.
Over the coming year, I also wish to hear from more of you as we continue to wish, pray, and take action to make our world a better place.
Here are some answers and plans of action from fellow DJN readers and members of the Jewish community of Metro Detroit.
“I wish for fairness and patience in both myself and others, and I yearn for an end to violence against all living creatures.” — Debbie Szobel Logan, Bloomfield Hills
“The Jewish New Year celebrates creation brought to completion with Adam and Eve. As their descendants, we are God’s partners to fulfill the purpose of creation. I hope and pray that each and every one of us discovers our inner purpose and does our piece of the puzzle to make the world a better place.” — Itty Shemtov, West Bloomfield
“There are so many problems to solve, and we can’t fix them all so let’s pick one. Sept. 11 made me think about how terrible terrorists are. Since this most recent anniversary, I’ve been thinking if we could put a stop to terrorist attacks, the world would be much a better place. First, you have to convince people that terrorists are terrible, and then tell the terrorists to stop. But that is only a dream, a wish for Rosh Hashanah.” — Ayelet Kaplan, 10, Huntington Woods, student at Hillel Day School
“I would wish for fewer wars and more world peace. I wish for a lot less hate, a lot less racism and a lot more love.”— Olivia Bloom, 12, Birmingham, student at Derby Middle School
“I wish for ISIS to be defeated and that another terror group to replace it does not rear its ugly head! I wish all tyrannical leaders on Earth could be replaced by truly righteous ones.”— Jane Kaner Foreman, West Bloomfield
“For me, Rosh Hashanah provides the opportunity to pause, take a deep breath … and another breath. In between those very deep breaths, I reflect on all that is good and all that needs to be good. I understand that one person alone cannot make it all good. And that my good might not be someone else’s. Understand that little steps add up. So on Rosh Hashanah, I make a promise to make the world a little bit better — so the good can grow and then invite others to join me.” — Sharona Shapiro, West Bloomfield, active in many volunteer activities for literacy, women, the homeless and food justice
“My wish for the world on its birthday is that the world should be a better place. I wish the world success in being the best world it can be. The way I can personally assist in helping achieve this wish for the world is that for every day that goes by, I engage in small (and large) acts of kindness and goodness directed toward man and the Earth.” — Renee Siege Nadiv, Huntington Woods
“My obvious wish for the world is peace. As an active member of the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project, I have learned that to make change in the world we must first empower and transform ourselves as women, as moms, as families and as members of society through our Jewish values. Just like I learned from my trip to Israel, when you inspire a woman, you can inspire a whole community and change the world. The best way to do that, as my kids are learning from their teachers at Hillel, is to raise children to be mentshes. I see it as my responsibility that my children are mentshes now at 5 and 3 and grow up to be mentsh-like adults. When I empower myself with Jewish knowledge, I can bring Jewish values and beliefs into our home and ultimately raise kids who are good Jewish kids. The greatest action I can do for the world, as I see it, is to help create peace by raising mentsh-like children and being a mentsh myself.” — Elizabeth Schafer, AISH 2016 Summer Momentum trip participant and mother of two
“I was thinking about this question the morning my family and I went to the Jewish Food Festival. My husband and I really were looking forward to listening to Rabbi Rachel Shere’s talk on ‘What’s Jewish about Food?’ but with our 5-year-old and 1-year-old in tow, I think we managed to hear about five minutes. What we did hear was an eloquent perspective on the apparent discordance that we thank God for the abundance of food and yet there are many, many people around the world who are hungry, and the message was that we need to partner with God to help distribute food to people who need it. Later in the day, when I asked my 5-year-old what he most wanted for the world, he said, ‘For everyone to have enough food and no one to be hungry,’ which made me realize he really was listening to the rabbi’s words! Personally, I wish for the world greater compassion … so I’m grateful to friends and community leaders who can help parents like me plant those seeds!” — Erika Bocknek, Farmington Hills
“I wish for complete freedom and safety for the Jewish people. To be able to walk through the world unmolested, without jeers and whispers, rocks or hatred thrown our way. I am wishing that each child will return always to their parents’ home, bursting through the door with laughter and joy, complete and intact. That no parent or sibling or spouse should ever look out the window to see the approaching news of death, hear their child’s name called up on the radio, stand next to a tallit-drapen body, their lips never to chant Yisgadal V’yisgadash because their loved one has been struck down by zealots of hate. I am wishing for our young people to take the Torah into their arms and their hearts, to know it, what it means, to understand it and what a gift it is from HaShem.As Rosh Hashanah approaches, I wish we would know each other better than we did at the time we stood at Sinai together, that we would truly be united, brethren in arms, standing for one another, to do as we would like to have done to ourselves. We are illuminated, majestic, magnificent, humbled, generous, ready — this is our time — this is the moment. Open our mouths — hear us, guide us as we speak.” — Shelley Dube, Farmington Hills, DJ on Voice of Peace Radio
“As the world blows out its birthday candles on Rosh Hashanah, I would wish for all of its inhabitants to open their minds. There are many negative stereotypes and fears surrounding people who are different from ourselves, but we can change that.Through my past two years volunteering in Detroit, I have gained such an appreciation for human differences. I have met and learned from so many amazing people who are completely different from me, whether they practice a different religion, speak a different language or are a different race. If more people were open-minded, the world would not be filled with nearly as much conflict. I, as a single person, cannot ‘repair the world,’ but my hope is that if many people join in, by spreading love and acceptance, as opposed to hate, we can truly make a positive impact.” — Hannah Myers, 17,
PeerCorps mentor leader, senior at Wylie E. Groves High School in Beverly Hills
“My wish is that we learn to look out for the best opportunities for the whole and not for the best opportunities for the individual. Tough to do because we seem to be genetically primed to attempt to outdo our neighbor. Nevertheless, we should not give up. Perhaps we could start with our elected leaders, even at the local level, demanding they communicate meaningfully with each other to determine and place what is best for the people ahead of what is best for themselves.” — Mitch Parker, West Bloomfield, spiritual leader of B’nai Israel Synagogue of West Bloomfield