After the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968, economic, social, and racial divisions threatened to tear Memphis apart. A diverse group of community and faith leaders came together and MIFA was created to confront the issues of poverty, hunger, and social division through service.
2020 brought another crisis to Memphis. In a series of blogs, some of our current-day faith leaders have taken time to express their visions and hopes on healing and coming out of the pandemic better and stronger as a community.
The Jewish calendar holds wisdom within it. Somehow, no matter the year, no matter our age or stage of life, tradition whispers new meaning to us. While the words of Torah remain the same and the rhythm of the year keeps its beat, we have yet another year of love and loss, of learning and leaning, under our belts. We revisit our texts and traditions like old friends we have been counting down the days to see, knowing that each of us is different from who we were the last time we read these words.
Currently, we are firmly in the lead-up to our High Holy Days. We are past Tisha B’av, a day on which we commemorate significant events of destruction in our history, especially the destruction of both Temple’s in Jerusalem. Rabbi Alan Lew gives Tisha B’av a spiritual dimension by interpreting the walls of the Holy Temple coming down to breaking down the walls we have built up within ourselves in the past year. As we head into the Hebrew month of Elul, we spend the entire month preceding Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, undergoing the process of Cheshbon HaNefesh, an accounting of the soul. We get uncomfortable, we step into vulnerability and ask ourselves difficult questions: “How have I hurt others this year? When did I fail to live up to the values I espouse? Who is it I want to be?”
We look to our past to build a stronger future. Each and every year, we will have missteps, mistakes, and failures, but we hope they will be different than the ones from the year before. Much like ancient Temple, during the pandemic we witnessed the walls come tumbling down. Many saw, perhaps for the first time, what so many knew firsthand – that injustice was a cornerstone of the world our ancestors built and we, their descendants must plant a new cornerstone. From the calls to address systemic racism, to blatant and subtle misogyny, to devastating poverty and our eyes have been opened and reopened. Thankfully, we have entered into a communal Cheshbon HaNefesh, a communal accounting of the soul of our city. This is a gift. Only through the process of Cheshbon HaNefesh, do we learn to show up with our whole selves in order to move the world toward justice and address the systems that were always broken.
I invite you to immerse in this Jewish tradition and look inward at this season. Through this process, may you find strength and comfort in knowing we walk it together. Each year we return to the Jewish calendar, texts, and traditions, they will have new wisdom for us, yet again, just like every year because although they remain the same, we are different.
Rabbi Bess Wohlner
Associate Rabbi at Temple Israel
Rabbi Bess Wohlner serves as the Associate Rabbi at Temple Israel. She has made Memphis her home for the past six years and is inspired by the Memphians' commitment to building a more just Memphis for all.