Each year, IKAR asks its members to reflect on the year gone by, and submit personal stories on a particular theme - these essays and paragraphs are then published in a book that's distributed at IKAR during the High Holidays. The texts in this booklet provide an additional layer for those who are meditating on renewal, repentance and change and who may not always feel connected to the traditional liturgy or even to its modern tunes. Last year's theme was epiphany (and you can read last year's contribution here). This year, the theme was courage and cowardice (you can read more about this exercise here). My submission is below. Wishing you all a reflective, inspiring, healthy and peaceful new year.
Years ago, on a Friday night on the Upper West Side, I was on my way home from Shabbat dinner when I saw a woman walking on the sidewalk. All of a sudden, she pitched forward into the street. I sprang forward into the street which, thankfully, was free of motor traffic; helped her out of the street and back over to the sidewalk. I asked if she was okay and she muttered something about having forgotten her medication in a cab. I stayed with her another minute or so, asked her again if she needed anything and then headed on my way. My heart was beating very fast. I had done the right thing, without thinking about it. But I also heard other voices in my head – the voices that distrust late-night New York life, the ones that speak on behalf of my self-preservation and warn about sketchy behavior and potential danger.
Last month, I was driving in a not-so-great part of Los Angeles, but it was daytime. A pale, scraggly, lanky man crossed the street with a case of beer, then staggered and fell on the sidewalk, thrusting the beer ahead of him as he fell. Then he started crawling toward the beer, as if he was too unstable to stand, or as if his legs had ceased to function. I was stopped at a light - I watched with concern, but stayed in the car. I was late, there was traffic all around me, I felt pressure to ignore him, assume he’d get help from somewhere else. As I advanced through the light, I glanced back, and saw someone was helping him. A case could be made that my role was to keep an eye on him until someone else arrived who could help. But I still felt guilty for watching him as he suffered, and waiting for someone else to help him. It was not my finest moment.