I know exactly when this happened.
Wednesday, August 30th, in the morning.
After coming to minyan and meeting with the preschool teachers, I sensed I needed to go out and walk.
I needed some inspiration, especially to get ready for the holidays; I also had to do one errand downtown Bethesda so I decided to take a walk.
I went home, changed into shorts and a hat, and started walking.
On the way I spoke with a colleague and friend from Miami, sharing ideas for sermons for the High Holidays. I did my errand and I started to walk back to my home in order to change clothes again and continue my work day.
It was at the intersection in front of the Hyatt where East West Hwy Wisconsin, Avenue and Old Georgetown Road meet. I started to cross East West Hwy and all of a sudden, I realized the cars were stopped but the upraised hand that means do not cross was still on. Luckily, there was an island in the middle of that street, so I stopped and waited until the next upraised hand would turn into a white walking person.
I finished crossing and got ready to cross Wisconsin, heading towards Beth El, when I saw a police officer approaching me.
“Can I have your license please?” He said (Of course, in one second many emotions went through in my mind. I started thinking of the worst case scenario – now he will pull out handcuffs, I get arrested, then I get deported and there is no Rosh Hashana sermon!!! Then, the only thing I could think of was: I don’t care, deport me if you want but after the High Holidays, I need to give my long High Holidays sermons!!!) I gave the officer my license.
“Wait here please” said the officer. I didn’t move, didn’t breathe like when you have an x ray… The policeman went to his motorcycle that was parked close by, and after a minute, he returned and handed me back my license together with a piece of paper with a ticket for J walking.
Stop the story here…
Really??? What??? Do I have a magnet for these things? Do I wear a shirt that says: give me a ticket, I am happy to pay.
The ticket said: the pedestrian failed to obey the don’t walk, upraised hand signal.
I thanked the officer and waited until the upraised hand turned into a white person to cross Wisconsin Avenue.
At that exact moment, 10:37 AM I knew I had my sermon for Rosh Hashana.
How can I start this new year without speaking about what happened last year… And a lot happened last year. Many unexpected things for most of us.
I came to this country almost 10 years ago with a dream. A simple one. Not exactly the American dream but my own dream, to live in a country where my kids will not feel afraid to live their Judaism with pride. Simply that. To live in a country where we can proudly display a sign that says, “We support Israel”, with pride.
To live in a country where the Israeli flag can be displayed in the Jewish institutions without fear.
And last year, I saw how the Nazi flag, the flag that represents the biggest horror in human history was displayed in our country.
So the moment I got the ticket for J walking, I knew that no upraised hand or no white person marching would prevent me from speaking up.
The two symbols of the stop sign for pedestrians reminded me of the sad events from Charlottesville. The upraised hand (like the Nazi salute) and the white person walking (like the marching of the white supremacists).
Yes, the policeman stopped me because I wasn’t right, but nobody is going to take away my right to sound loud and say this is not the country that I dreamed of.
And we American Jews are not the same people we were 70 years ago.
70 years ago the Nazi flag could wave in the world and we were unfortunately powerless.
The creation of the State of Israel gave us a strong voice on the global stage for the first time in millennia.
As Jews, it is our obligation to elevate our voices and say that no upraised hand, no white supremacist walking will stop us.
In our country, today, unlike in 1940 we Jews do not stand alone in the face of anti-Semitism.
So we say: Never again.
And even though there is no vaccine against anti-Semitism, there is no definitive cure for that illness, we will continue finding new treatments for it.
Nobody is going to stop us.
Our voices are going to be heard louder than ever because now we have that voice.
On Rosh Hashanah our voices need to be clear and loud as the sounds of the shofar.
Yes, there is shvarim… We are broken as the sound of the shevarim. We are cracked, we are fragile, we feel vulnerable when we see the Charlottesville images.
Yes there is Trua, The sound of crying, of weeping when we see that Nazis are in our midst.
But today, I want to remind all of us that the sounds of the shofar during the High Holidays start with a Tekiah, a strong and unbroken sound and conclude with a Tekiah Gedolah a strong sound that seems to be endless.
A sound that seems not to ever stop.
No upraised hand, no white man marching is going to stop us from sounding loud, strong and clear. Never again.
May the sound of the shofar inspire us to build a world of respect and love.
May the sound of the shofar inspire us to educate and open the eyes of those who need some physical and spiritual light.
May the sound of the shofar bring for all of us a happy, healthy and sweet year.