Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Where is the Book of Life? A True Story

Today is the eve of Rosh Hashonah, the Jewish New Year, and we stand 10 days away from Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. On Rosh Hashonah all humanity and every living thing passes before God for judgment. On Rosh Hashonah, the judgment is written, and on Yom Kippur, it is sealed. We fervently pray to be written and sealed in the Book of Life.

I want to retell an incident, which occurred at this season four years story, at my synagogue, Shaarey Zedek Congregation, just before the Kol Nidre prayer that initiates Yom Kippur. An elderly man came into the sanctuary. He had a Russian accent and in broken English he began asking people, "Where is Book of Life? I want to write my family in Book of Life." I tried to explain to him that God has the Book of Life and that we pray to God to write our names in it, but he responded, "No understand. Ruski. Where is the Book of Life?"

We have some Russian speakers at Shaarey Zedek, including Irine, the wife of our then President. So I went looking for Irine, and eventually I found her and she went to speak with the elderly man. I do not yet know what she told him or what was the result. Yet for some reason I was left with the vague feeling that I had been presented with a great test and failed it.

In my reflections on the incident throughout Yom Kippur, however, two positive thoughts emerged. First was an overwhelming sense of gratitude to God that I was born and raised in the United States of America, and not under a tyranny that did its utmost to suppress all religious practice and education, especially of Judaism, for some 70 years. The second was a feeling of awe that a man who had lived under the Soviet system for most of his life, and had been so thoroughly deprived of his Torah heritage, still had enough of a connection to God, Torah and Judaism to know that there is a Book of Life, that he wanted his family to be inscribed in it, and that the place to look for it was in a synagogue on Yom Kippur.

While, as I said, I do not yet know about his conversation with Irine, I do believe that the old Russian Jew succeeded in having his family inscribed in the Book of Life. May God find my merits to be even a small fraction of those of that man.

May all of you be written and sealed in the Book of Life for a year of great blessings, of faith in God, awe of heaven, health, happiness, prosperity and peace.