Rosh Hashanah is a complex day. On the one hand, we are austere, trembling before God, repenting for our sins. On the other hand, we are joyous. We celebrate with family, friends and food. It is sometimes hard to balance the gravity of the day that we experience in prayer with the levity that comes with the holiday feast.
I think there is a beautiful concept embedded in this dissonance. We are asked to honor the day in seemingly opposing ways, asked to straddle the space between feeling small and unworthy and unboundedly happy. The importance of both aspects of observing the holiday underscores the value of being able to embrace disparate pathways to serve Hashem (G-d).
CLIP this summer repeatedly presented me with a similar experience. The diverse cohort was filled with people who were all committed to Judaism in some form, but in ways that differed completely from how I act out my Jewish identity.
After CLIP, not only am I more comfortable with different opinions, I have come to embrace this plurality of beliefs. And as I broadened my awareness of alternative practices, I also deepened my commitment to my own religious obligations. I have a stronger sense of what I think Judaism is asking of me—and what I am asking of it—while at the same time I have a much greater understanding and respect of different approaches and beliefs.
Rosh Hashanah reminds me of CLIP in other ways, too. The Day of Judgment is primarily about the individual, with personal atonement and prayers. However, there are places where the language accounts for the entire community. One particularly resonant image for me comes from the prayer Unetanneh Tokef. It says, “All mankind will pass before You like a flock of sheep. Like a shepherd pasturing his flock, making sheep pass under his staff, so shall You cause to pass, count, calculate and consider the soul of all the living.” The utilization of the flock as the metaphorical vehicle to illustrate an individual experience highlights the overlap of our collective and personal identities. We are individuals, judged by our own deeds, but we come as part of a whole. Furthermore, although we pass before G-d one at a time, this is a shared experience. On Rosh Hashanah, and in Judaism in general, there is both a shared aspect of community and the idea that the community is a collection of individuals.
CLIP involved a lot of this kind of thinking: deep introspection without forgetting about the communities we are each a part of, as well as the community we created together. A strong exhibit of that was our Shabbaton, particularly the Friday night prayer service. Although a ritual committee was designated to work out the details, everyone participated in trying to recognize and incorporate the (numerous) differences in practice and belief into our shared experience. Although the build- up was stressful (so I hear from my friends on the committee), ultimately I had one of the most meaningful prayer services of my life; it truly felt like a communal song in harmony rather than (what I anticipated would be) discordant voices and tense barriers. Respect for the individual within the space of the group is a value I truly internalized through my experiences with CLIP.
It is my hope and prayer that the entire CLIP community will harness their experiences to bring these ideas to Jewish communities across the country and even the world, and hopefully we can start to build bridges between the innumerable individuals, personalities, and pathways to Hashem that comprise Am Yisrael.