“People don’t change.“
Call me a Pollyanna, but my heart breaks whenever I hear it said.
Of course, people say it because very often, as a practical matter, it is true. Change comes hard. Old habits die only with a terrible fight. We don’t change unless we want to. And very often even if we want to change, change eludes us. We make resolutions and break them, turn a new leaf and then backslide.
Still, to give up on the possibility of change is such a despairing gesture. People can and do change. We all know stories of people who transform themselves physically, emotionally, spiritually, politically, turning their lives around to all sorts of dramatic effects. Formerly junk-food-addicted couch potatoes who have become fit, all-natural outdoors enthusiasts; skinheads turned peace-loving diversity trainers; former gang members traveling the school-assembly circuit to teach kids how to learn from their mistakes; the victim-turned-abuser who broke the cycle and now counsels and aids other survivors.
This time of year we focus on teshuvah, repentance, which also translates into English as “return.”
Remember who you are, the season exhorts us. You are created in the image of God.
For better or worse, over the course of a life, people do change. We lose the innocence of infancy, we learn from our experiences, for good or for evil. The important thing to remember, though, is that we all begin with a spark of holiness inside us. We may allow that spark to grow dim under the clutter and worry of everyday life, or worse, disappear beneath the bitterness and loathing that can come of loss and disappointment. But the spark is still there, waiting to re-emerge. Waiting to be remembered.
What will prompt us to remember?
Experience can lead to transformation. Sometimes, simply hearing a story can change our life. We cannot know in advance what it will be. So we try to open ourselves to new people and ideas, new stories and experiences. It is hard, especially as we grow older, more set in our ways, more suspicious of the unknown. Yet, if we wish to keep living, to keep growing, it is vital.
I was already meditating on these themes when I learned of this year’s Gift of Life High Holy Days bone marrow donor drive, jointly sponsored by the Gift of Life Bone Marrow donor drive, jointly sponsored by the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Registry, the Union for Reform Judaism, and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. Some of you have heard me speak occasionally over the last fourteen months of my friends and colleagues Rabbis Phyllis and Michael Sommer, whose seven-year-old son Sam has been battling leukemia. Sam received a bone marrow transplant in late August; thankfully, his family found a donor match. Not all children, not all families, are so lucky.
Here’s something that can help you recall your spark of holiness in a hurry: register for the chance to save a life.
Join us at Temple Or Hadash this Rosh Hashanah, not only to celebrate the world’s creation, not only for the sense of possibility a New Year brings, the resolve to make positive change in our lives. Rosh Hashanah always serves as gateway to this season of teshuvah (return), always offers up inspiration for a fresh start. This year let it also be the day you register with the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Donor Registry. You, someone you know, any one of us might be the one in a hundred thousand who can offer the next person in line for a bone marrow transplant the ultimate fresh start, the assurance we all want for ourselves: a chance at life.
All it takes is a cheek swab. If you aren’t eligible to become a donor (donors must be between the ages of 18 and 60), find and bring someone who is. Or volunteer to help register others.
The drive will be held Thursday morning, September 5th, from 8:30 until just before the 10:00 Rosh Hashanah morning service. More information and consent forms will be available Rosh Hashanah evening. Questions? Contact Pam Levine or Patzi Goldberg (mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org mailto:email@example.com drive coordinators.
It is not a magic bullet, but its effects might prove magical—for more life than one.
gam zeh ya’avor,