Forgiveness for a troubled earth

Jews across the globe began observing the High Holy Days last night, Sept. 24, at sundown with the two-day holiday Rosh Hashanah — the start of the Jewish New Year — followed by an eight-day period of reflection and repentance.

“May you be inscribed in the book of life for a happy new year” is the greeting people give each other during this holy time of the year. The greeting in Hebrew is “Shanah tova,” or “Have a good or sweet new year.” It is traditional to dip cut-up apples into honey to symbolize the sentiment.

The Torah commands the sounding of the shofar during this time of reflection. The shofar is made from an animal horn, generally a ram, and has Biblical connotations. The coming year’s fate may be changed for the better during the intervening days of “turning” between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, involving a conscious decision to turn away from the sins of the past and act in accordance with God’s commandments in the future.

Jews are taught that God decides on Rosh Hashanah what their fate will be during the coming year, but the decision is not sealed until Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement and the holiest day of the year.

Yom Kippur begins on Friday, Oct. 3, at sundown and continues until after nightfall on Oct. 4. This day is intended for making amends for mistakes made against God and fellow humans. The time of fasting and atonement lasts almost 26 hours and concludes with prayers and a festive meal to break the fast. Despite its solemnity and time spent in temple atoning for mistakes, a feeling of joy and closeness to God permeates the holiday.

A dark cloud hangs over the 2014 High Holy Days as it has during other especially troubled times in history. Cruel and sadistic people have committed heinous crimes in far-flung parts of the world throughout the ages, long before social media brought brutal images into our homes and onto our cell phone screens. But man’s inhumanity to man has grown increasingly graphic with the proliferation of digital devices.

Some 2,200 lives were lost this summer when the ever-festering Israeli-Palestinian conflict erupted into all-out war between Israel and Hamas, sparked by the killing of three Israeli teenagers. The fragile ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas conflict and its aftermath has receded from the front pages in recent week, following the barbarous beheading of two American journalists and a British aide worker by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. An international coalition, led by the United States, has begun airstrikes to stop the carnage but is expected to take years to accomplish the formidable goal of destroying ISIS. A war-weary nation now faces another protracted period of fighting.

People of good faith throughout the world should join together in this time of “turning” during the Jewish High Holy Days and reflect on our individual and collective sins. There is no better time than the present to put aside our religious, ethnic and economic differences, forgive those who have sinned against us and pray for peace on our very troubled earth.

Nothing would be so sweet as peace in the new year.