Posted by: fullandbye | September 9, 2010

Erev Rosh Hashanah

Erev Rosh Hashanah, 5771.

I tend to get even more contemplative than usual around this time of year. I think some part of me is still on the academic calendar. Perhaps I simply find autumn a fitting time to reflect. Perhaps the Jewish calendar resonates within me more strongly than I realize.

I like to think it is a combination of all of these things.

A year ago on Erev Rosh Hashanah I was cooped up in Accra, in the final few days of the limbo that began when it became apparent that i could not remain in Ghana. Well I remember the anxiety of waiting to hear if Jamaica had come through as an option, or if I would return to site, or if I would be medically separated and return to the known unknown of life in Seattle. At that moment I was frankly in too weird of a headspace to adequately reflect on the year passed and the year to come. I did not get a chance to fully sanctify the transition. These things happen.

This year I am grateful to consider my life stable, settled, and happy. It took the better part of a year to dial in my Peace Corps service but this struggle is something to be grateful for too.

There is a concept I have been thinking about recently. A lovely phrase called “Tikkun Olam”. This translates to something like “the repairing (tikkun) of the world (olam)”.

I was planning to write some big expository post on serving overseas, and on the benefit that can come when we make it our business to live our lives as though ever person in this world is deserving of equal consideration. This topic merits a series of Tikkun related posts but but to be quite honest, much as I would like to write something like this, I am not sure I can wrap my head around this concept enough to even begin.

Besides, I am in the USA right now, and something happened today that has thrown my thinking about this topic into sharp relief.

Peace Corps talks a lot about Reverse Culture Shock. My brother and i are visiting my mother in Alaska right now, and life here is certainly different. The streets are huge and well paved. Cars are neither falling apart nor filled with live animals (plenty of dead deer rolling in pickups though), and I am not sweating bullets every hour of every day.

I thought I had experienced a bit of reverse culture shock. I was wrong. Roads, cars, even the weather is hardly a shock to one’s system when compared against the social rules that hold us together. And stateside the rules are different indeed.

As it was.

I was in the library in Anchorage to see some art and look at the gorgeous building. As I was walking up the stairs in the atrium at the entrance, a little boy (maybe 4) who had been flying a paper airplane down the stairwell tripped on the stairs and tumbled down a few steps. He began to cry immediately and his mother was nowhere to be found. His older brother came running over and asked to look inside his mouth. Discovering that no teeth were missing and no blood was inside the mouth told his wailing brother “you are not bleeding”. At this point the little guy sobbed “yeah, but I am hurting”.

It was too much. Kid was holding his hand (he fell on his wrist) and was really inconsolable. I knelt down to look at him, and when he walked over with his arms outstretched I picked him up and said “hey little man. I know you are hurting just now, but you will be ok. Ok? Think you can hold it together for a bit?”. He looked at me, big eyes still teary and nodded. “There we go. You’re being being really brave.” The kid nodded. “Alright, let’s go find your mom, ok?” Big nod again.

At this point, the kid’s mom appeared at the bottom of the atrium. Our eyes met. She looked at me strangely, and I put the kid down and he ran to his mom and brother and I walked to my mom and brother. The whole thing could not have lasted more than 30 seconds or so.

“Raz. What were you doing?” My own mother asked me as soon as we were out of earshot.
“What do you mean? That kid was upset. I told him he would be ok and he stopped crying”
“Raz. Do you pick up random kids in Peace Corps?”
“Of course. Shit, in Ghana they would not even wait. They would just climb up on me whether I liked it or not. But in Jamaica I play with random kids all the time. Why?”
“Raz. You can’t do that in the US. You take a huge legal risk the moment you do something like that.”

And with that, everything fell apart.

i joined Peace Corps because I found it impossible to ignore the rest of the world. It took this experience to make me realize the extent to which we have built a society here in the United States in which we routinely ignore each other.

Kids playing on stairs will inevitably fall. And when they do, it sometimes takes an adult to tell them that they will be ok for them to believe that they will be ok. There is nothing weird about this. Until my mom reminded me, I had completely forgotten (not sure if I ever knew) the extent to which we have created a world in which extending kindness to a little kid is a risk. And this concept is unbelievably weird to me right now. How have we broken the world so completely? A world where an extension of goodwill towards a sobbing little boy carries legal risk is a world that is badly broken. I don’t even know where to begin.

So my thought for this Erev Rosh Hashanah is this: if this world is to be repaired, we need to actively facilitate trust and generosity of spirit enough that the good in people can find its natural expression. Our humanity must be as unencumbered as possible if we are to live up to our full potential as people. And it starts on the smallest of scales.

I wish I had something more profound to offer. But this will have to do.

Shanah Tova v’metukah l’qulam.

i wish you all a sweet and good year.

Current time: 12:05, Alaska Daylight Time. 9 September, 2010.
Current Outside Temperature: Too fucking cold.
Current Location: Mom’s apartment in Anchorage, AK.
Current Beverage: Gascon Malbec, 2009. Argentina. Nice inexpensive bottle.


  1. I love your reflective, insightful Rosh Hashanah posts.

    I would like to point out that you consider the current temp too cold, at the same time as rejoicing in wearing your wonder pants for the first time in over a year. Ironic?

    Happy new year!

  2. Maybe a little bit ironic.

    The thing is, I was not wearing any pants when I wrote this and I was a little bit chilly inside the apartment. So in my pantsless states I could not help but consider the outside world an unacceptable place, temperaturewise.

    But you are absolutely right about how much I love the wonderpants. I love them for their warmth, for the black and red suspenders that hold them up, and for their proven ability to cause silverware to materialize out of the ether. Truly the king of pants.

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