High Holiday Reflections

    By Hilary Gewant,
    BJF President
    These are the Days of Awe. These ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are for personal reflection, introspection, and forgiveness. It is our time to consider the sins of the previous year and how each of us can do better. The decisions we make can change everything. With G-d watching, we are masters of our own fate. Through teshuvah (repentance), tefillah (prayer), and tzedakah (charity), we can alter G-d’s decree. We have been given the chance to start anew. What will you decide for yourself? What will we collectively decide for our Birmingham Jewish community?
    Making decisions is something each of us does every day. I don’t often sit down and analyze my decisions because, mostly, they are trivial things like carpool schedules and to-do lists. Are these truly important? In the short term, yes, of course they are. However, they are not decisions that speak to who I am at the core. Those decisions are very different in scope and depth of meaning.
    One of the biggest decisions I’ve made this year was choosing to accept the nomination to become President of The Birmingham Jewish Federation. With an assist from my family and assurances that I had their full support, I made the choice to stand up for our community and for Jews around the world. I’m extremely proud to be the first member of my generation to embrace this role and I do so wholeheartedly.
    If I really take a moment to think about it and look deeper, I realize that all decisions — big or small — impact our lives in crucial ways. Our lives as Jews in Birmingham are in transition. Decisions we’ve already made and decisions yet to come will define what our Birmingham Jewish community looks like in the not so distant future.
    We, as a community, chose to host the JCC Maccabi Games this past August and we should be very proud of what we accomplished. We welcomed over 1,000 athletes, coaches, and delegation heads to the second smallest Jewish community to ever host the games. And host them, we did! We came together as a community and showed them an amazing week of sportsmanship, sporting events, camaraderie, and good ol’ Southern hospitality!
    Earlier in the year, we, as a community (along with numerous communities throughout the JCC system), found ourselves faced with bomb threats to our LJCC and our NE Miles Jewish Day School. We stood up to these threats and remained steadfast in our mission to provide a safe place for all members to congregate, learn, and engage with others. We stood up and faced this challenge head-on. Volunteer leader Donald Hess spearheaded a highly successful security campaign, which strategically shored up all facets of Jewish life in Birmingham through detailed planning and major security improvements.
    JOINING FORCES 
    Our BJF and LJCC made the decision to join forces in an experiment which I believe will only serve to further strengthen Jewish life in Birmingham. We now have one Executive Director serving both institutions, an innovative model that will enable us to use our resources better.
    We’ve shown what we can do in the tough moments when our safety is in peril and we’ve shown the world what we can do to celebrate in moments of great sporting triumph. It’s what we do with the moments in between that will shape our future and form our new community identity.
    We, at The BJF, have chosen to help victims of the recent storms in Texas and Florida. Every day in so many ways, we choose to help Israel by addressing security needs and standing up to anti-Semitism and hate in all forms.
    We stand on the shoulders of history and at the precipice of monumental, meaningful change. The decisions we make will shape not only our lives for the next year, but also our community for generations to come. Through cooperation and communication, I know that we can build an even stronger Birmingham Jewish community and we can accomplish great things. Ask yourself: What do I stand for? What can I accomplish? How can I help?
    These are the Days of Awe.
    Seek repentance (teshuvah). Do something today that makes another person happy. Say you’re sorry and seek their forgiveness.
    Immerse yourself in prayer (tefillah). Do something today that makes your soul happy. It doesn’t have to be in temple or synagogue. Prayer exists in many forms. Be the answer to someone else’s prayer in whatever way you can.
    Give tzedakah. Do something today that makes your heart sing with joy. Giving back is the best gift of all.
    G-d has written your name and our Birmingham Jewish community’s name in his book on Rosh Hashanah; it will be sealed on Yom Kippur. We are starting a new year with new ideas and new energy. Won’t you join us? L’shanah tovah tikatevu. May we all be inscribed and sealed for a good year.

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