Shanah Tovah – Happy New Year

By Mark Greenberg, PANA Board Member

Mark Greenberg, PANA Board Member

Mark Greenberg, PANA Board Member

Jews around the world are in the midst of our High Holidays-- what we call the “Days of Awe” – the period from Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). These are considered the most sacred days on the Jewish calendar.

As I’ve become more involved with PANA and interacted with and learned more about San Diego’s refugee community, I’ve been increasingly struck by the similarities between the Islamic and Jewish faiths. The most basic is that both religions follow a lunar calendar with most holidays beginning and ending at sundown. And many holidays overlap or have similar roots. Muslims commemorated the story of Abraham being commanded to sacrifice his son during Eid Al-Adha; Jews read this story on Rosh Hashanah.

This week, as Muslims around the world will commemorate Ashura beginning Monday night and fasting from dawn to sundown on Tuesday. Tuesday night, will also be the beginning of Yom Kippur, many Jews will go to synagogue and recite the Kol Nidre prayer, perhaps the most well-known and holiest prayer in our canon. Translated to “all vows,” this prayer begins a period of fasting, repentance and reflection where we ask God to cancel the vows or promises we have made in the previous year and grant us forgiveness for sins against God.

But while our sins against God are forgiven through prayer, we must seek specific forgiveness from people we have wronged or offended. It is not enough to simply pray those sins away. Yom Kippur will conclude at sunset Wednesday when we will hear the call of the Shofar (a rams horn) signaling the end of the observance and the fast. From there, many Jews will gather among family and friends to “break the fast.”

But aside from the holidays, we also share a history as refugees. Whether it was Moses leading the Jews out of Pharoah’s Egpyt and spending 40 years wandering in the desert before being allowed into Canaan – today’s Israel – or Jews seeking safety from the horror of Hitler’s Germany, Jews throughout history have been a displaced or refugee people.

I was struck recently by the discovery that Otto Frank, the father of Anne Frank, one of the more well-known victims of the Holocaust through the publication of The Diary of Anne Frank, sought visas for his family to escape Nazi occupation but ran into restrictive American immigration policies. The Frank family later died in concentration camps.

There are many similarities between the general American feelings of anti-semitism then and in today’s attitudes regarding refugees, particularly Muslims. Fear of “the other” being the most analogous.

In Judaism, we are taught the concept of Tikkun Olam, meaning “repair the world.” Through acts of kindness, we individually and collectively work to make the world a better place. I’m proud to carry these teachings forward through my work with PANA.

And if you run into any Jewish friends or colleagues in the coming days, feel free to wish them a Shanah Tovah – Happy New Year.

Through acts of kindness, we individually and collectively work to make the world a better place.
— Mark Greenberg, PANA Board Member