Yom Kippur 5779 – A Holy Reboot

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A student was heading home for the holidays. When he got to the airline counter, he presented his ticket to New York.  As he gave the agent his luggage, he made the remark, “I’d like you to send my green suitcase to Hawaii, my red suitcase to London and my yellow one to Dubai.” The confused agent said, “I’m sorry sir but we can’t do that.”

“Really??? Says the student, I am so relieved to hear that because that’s exactly what you did to my luggage last year!”.

As you probably know, I have lived in four different countries- Chile, Argentina, Israel and now the United States.  The other day I was counting how many times my luggage was lost flying from one country to another. Six or seven times. And it is so inconvenient.  The clothes, the phone charger, personal items and so on, the list is endless. As you can imagine, my list of flight incidents is outstanding, both in number and intensity.  Just to give you an example: Once traveling from Israel to visit my family in Chile, I spent 2 days in hotels due to cancellations because of bad weather. 6 months before that, when I was traveling to visit a good friend in Europe, I also spent 2 days in hotels because of cancellations, but this time because of the explosion of the right engine of the plane.  These are just some of my flying anecdotes.

But today I want to share with you another airplane story, not as frightening as the one with El-Al, but still intense and scary enough to bediscussedin a Yom Kippur sermon.  Nearly 4 years ago, Fernanda and I were about to travel to Chile, in a long 10-hour trip with 1connection. We were traveling with the kids, which of course added some exciting challenges to the adventure.  And while already seated on the plane and about to depart from JFK, the captain, instead of introducing himself as usual, announced those words that you never want to hear:“Dear passengers, unfortunately we are having some technical problems. Technicians are already working on it and we will update you as soon as we have more information”.I am sure you have heard these words before.  As we had a 4-hour connection flight in Atlanta, I wasn’t really worried about a delay.  But I became more concernedwhen the Captain gave his new update: “We have been informed that we have a problem with the plane’s computer, unfortunately the technicians could not fix it.  They will now try a last attempt, a reboot, and if the computer restarts, we will be ready for departure” We waited for 10 minutes with the lights and the air conditioning off, so they could reboot the computer. Although I have been on flights with technical issues many times, this was the first time I heard about a “restart fix”. I was asking myself: can a “reboot” be enough to fix a plane’s computer? Just try to imagine yourself in a situation where your flight is delayed because the plane’s “brain” is not working, and then you are told it was fixed with a simple off and on of a switch.

At the end, the reboot didn’t workand they realized the problem wasn’t actually with the plane’s computer.  The flight was cancelled, and although we lost an entire day because there were no more connections, I felt a huge relief.

When flying again, the next day, I came to the conclusionthat the reboot is probably one of the greatest inventions of all time.  How is it possible that almost all electronics, from the simplest to the most complex ones, devices that manage our communications, our daily banking, multi-million dollar transactions, complicated health tests, treatments, war equipment, space travel… almost everything in life, can be fixed with a simple reboot. I realized that the world, without exaggerating, would be a very different place, if that restart mechanism would have never been invented.

The reboot works.

Slow internet? Just unplug the router and plug it in again…

Your new Laptop’s screen froze?

Just restart!

You spilled some coffee on your computer, as you probably saw on my Facebook timeline, just reboot!

After 40, 50 years of incredible technological advancement, with chips so small that billions of them can fit in the head of a pin, the restart is the greatest technological wisdom of all times.

So here is a good advice for the New Year: If one of your precious electronic devices doesn’t work, and you are ready to hit the roof, just “keep calm and reboot”.

(SHOWING T-SHIRT)

But now, let’s imagine for a moment: What if lifecould have a restart button?  I would paya lot of money to have it installed, for example, in my children. A temper tantrum? Can’t stop crying?  Don’t like the food? Forgot to do the homework for tomorrow?

Reboot!..          

In times when we have seen so many technological advances, how comesnobody has created a reboot system for our lives yet?  When life gets complicated, why can’t we reboot? When our internal computers don’t respond, when our internal GPS is not calibrated, when we are frozen, and when we feel that our connections are lost, why can’t we just simply push a switch and reboot? I don’t know much about biotechnology, but as your Rabbi I can tell you that we all have a reboot mechanism.

Human beings can restart, we just need to know where and how to look for the switch. It’s not just as simple as unplugging and plugging it in again, we were not created that way, but the possibility is just there.  We can repair bad connections, broken parts and internal failures if we know how to restart.

If we choose to, we can improve the performance of our slow and lagging systems and live healthier and happier lives.

Every human being can do this, but Jews were given the wonderful gift of knowing when, where and how to do it. Today, here at this synagogue, we all havethe sacred opportunity to begin our personal process of rebooting. Historians and philosophers haven’t been able to agree on the reason Yom Kippur is so powerful. Why is it, that this day attracts so many Jews to Synagogues?  Why is it, that you know today you have to be here? Rabbi Lawrence Kushner in his book “All these vows” sets forth the idea of Yom Kippur as the day when “All bets are off”. Yom Kippur is like that “click” sound of a restart button that comes with so much relief and joy: Begin again. Fresh start, “restore your default settings”.

There is something profoundly moving and beautiful about this day.  It’s not about depriving ourselves of food and happiness. It’s when we can turn inward and focus on ourselves.  It’s whenwe search in our hard drives, and find that restart button, when we take stock of the life we led and the life we want to lead.

That’s the reason why many Rabbis explain the white color of Yom Kippur, as a resemblance of death.

We dress up like our own bodies inside the white shrouds, the tachrichim.  We don’t eat or drink, we don’t use perfume, there are no marital relations. Yom Kippur rehearses not only our own physical death, but also the death of the old year.  Yom Kippur is the day of the year when we run into a system error, a temporary death, and we are forced to restart.

Think about it, Judaism is a story of one restart after another… it’s part of our DNA:

The Jewish people were born because of a reboot. Abraham rebooted the faith of his father Terach into the belief of a one and only God.  Moses broke the first set of Tablets because the covenant failed, and our ancestors worshipped the Golden Calf. But immediately after this episode there was forgiveness and reconciliation. Moses made a second pair of Tablets, this time with his own hands, rebooting the covenant with God and starting it all over again. These two Tablets represent the rebooted covenant which survived persecutions, exiles, pogroms and the Nazis, and it’s because of this holy covenant that we are here today, reboot after reboot.   So for the rest of Yom Kippur, while we work on our personal reboot, we get to decide what to load back in ourpersonal soul’s computer. And this is really what Teshuvah means: Reloading your computer with what you need, restoring your best vision of yourself, your best version of yourself, to return to that special and unique purpose in life, that only belongs to you.

A Chassidic story tells about the great Master, Rev Suzia, who was crying while laying on his deathbed.

His students asked him: “Rebbe, why are you so sad?  After all the mitzvot and good deeds you have done, you will surely get a great reward in heaven! “I am afraid…” – said Suzia – “Because when I get to heaven, I know God is not going to ask me “Why weren’t you as wise as Moses, or as strong as King David?  I am afraid that God will ask me: “Suzia:Why weren’t you, more like Suzia!” And then, what will I say?

My friends, Teshuvah is returning to that unique mission that defines who you are and why you are here in this world. On this Yom Kippur, I would like to ask you: are you ready for your holy reboot?

Are you prepared to trust your personal reboot, to help yourself fix the critical issues from last year What do you need in your computer?  What is the data that you need to reload to recalibrate your life?                                                                               

When I work on my personal reboot, on my personal Teshuvah, I know that I have to begin reloading, bringing back my personal core-memories, those that tell me who I am,and can help me to overcome my obstacles and limitations. And I begin with my parents and family.  Their teachings and examples taught me how to be a father, how to be a Jew and what my priorities in life should be. We all know, even when it’s sometimes hard to acknowledge, that when life gets complicated we end up asking (sometimes in real conversations and sometimes in our imaginations) what our parents or other role models would do in similar situations. Because what they taught us is what defines us, when things don’t work the way they should, I go there first, so I can begin again.  What, are then, the memories and lessons from your parents, grandparents ora belovedrelativethat you would use to recover your better self? Teachings, experiences, absences, contradictions, disappointments, our character was formed by all of them, and they can give us wisdom and inspiration to start again, renewed.

As a Rabbi, I also know that for my Teshuvah to happen, I need to go to my Rabbis and teachers, from different moments in my life, those who inspired me to respect and love Judaism.  They remind me of what shaped my identity and my vocation. When frustration and disappointment come, I go back to that place to be reminded why I chose to be a Rabbi, what a Rabbi is and isn’t, no matter the challenges that may come.  Those core memories help me to remember my limitations, celebrate my successes and plan the year ahead in a way that I can restart, trying to find the best version of what I believe I can be.

On this Yom Kippur: Where would you go, to look for memories and past-experiences that can help you to evaluate your call and your career?  What are your core-memories, those that can help you to be proud of yourself and recalibrate your goals? Who has inspired you throughout your life, so you can evoke his/her presence when it’s time to begin again?

And then I turn to my own family, my wife and children.  I acknowledge the love and care I receive from them, those core-memories that I know should be there when, at the end of the year, I choose to reboot. I recall the patience, the laughter, hugs, kisses, the failures, the apologies and the lessons we have learned together. At the beginning of a new year,I count all my blessings because they made me the person I am, and it’sby their inspiration that I can keep renewing myself, always towards my mission and purpose in life.

To seek inspiration in my process of Teshuvah, I also turn tour community and our congregation. We are blessed in our community with many different options to continue nurturing and enhancing our souls and the souls of our children. Merkaz, the community Jewish High School, is a great place for teens in our Community, gathering them in a Jewish environment, connecting them to Jewish friends and learning experiences. If your child is in High School, I encourage you to consider Merkaz as part of their Jewish education and to check out the many great things that this program has to offer. We are fortunate to have Jewish day schools in our area such as Ezra Academy, Carmel Academy, Bi-Cultural day School, and the Jewish High School. They are great options to foster the Jewish identity of the future generations of our people. I know that a Jewish Day School may not be for everyone. But at least, I invite you to consider this option, and still lend your support to these institutions even if it is not the right choice for your family. This year, I had the opportunity to visit Camp Ramah. We are very fortunate to have a new Camp Ramah right here, in our backyard, Ramah Sports Academy. It is a great camp and a wonderful way to connect to sports and Judaism in the summer.

This High Holy Days in particular, I have tried to re-connect with some important core-memories that have a relevant place in my life.  These significant memories are about my relationship with Israel.

For me, this has been a yearof growing disappointment towards the Israeli government, both because of what I seeas a lack of will towards the resolution of its historical problemsby passage of a new Jewish Nation State Law, and because the government hasabandonedConservative and Reform Jews around the world.  Many of us are tired of being considered second class Jews by a State controlled by the Ultra-Orthodox Rabbinate. Our Rabbis are included on blacklists, detained by the police for performing wedding ceremonies, our conversions and marriages rejected, we don’t have a dignified space to pray at the Kotel, the Western Wall… Yet, liberals Jews in Israel go to the army, they work as regular citizens, pay taxes, and they have built dozens of non-orthodox congregations without receiving a Shekel from the State, while Ultra-orthodox Jews receive millions. It’s not an exaggeration to say that we are probably at the worst moment in the relationship between Israel and the diaspora. But when I consider my personal worries and disappointments, and I look to what I need to re-evaluate and rebootmy relationship with Israel, I go back first to all my memories, trips, experiences, history and Jewish values.

I see myself going back to many of my memories, as a child growing within a very Zionist Jewish Community, as a Rabbinical Student connecting my love for Israel with my passion for Judaism, and all the incredible experiences and learning opportunities I had while living there.  I try to put all of this together in order to do a requiredreboot in my relationship with the State of Israel.

There is one special, very strong, memory that I want to share with you this morning:

Some of you may have seen images of the Israeli rescue delegation helping to release 12 children trapped in a cave in the Philippines. Those images reminded me of one of the most intense experiences I ever had with our Jewish State. 24 years ago, on July 17, 1994, a white truck loaded with explosives crashed the building of the AMIA in Buenos Aires, the central institution of the Jewish Community, destroying the entire building along with other buildings in the neighborhood.  85 people died, Jews and non-Jews, in what has been the bloodiest anti-Semitic attack after the Holocaust. Along with my Rabbis and other Rabbinical Students, we spent 10 days visiting the survivors and accompanying the families while they were waiting for their relatives to be rescued or their bodies recovered. Less than 24 hours after the attack, we received an unexpected announcement: A military plane from Tzahal, the IDF, had come with a team of experts who were going to lead the rescue efforts.  Upon their arrival, an Israeli flag was raised on the top of what remained of the building. They recruited volunteers who could speak Hebrew to help themwith their mission. Suddenly the language spoken was not Spanish anymore. Official reports were given in Hebrew on national TV with simultaneous translation. Jews in Argentina were feeling vulnerable and helpless. Two years before this horrible attack, there had been another bloody terrorist attack, that time against the Israeli Embassy. We knew they attacked us because we were Jews, and the Hezobollah had travelled to the other end of the world to kill us, with the complicity of the police, politicians and now we know even high ranking members of the government.  But, Israel was there… our Jewish State, taking care of us, rescuing victims, spending resources and risking human lives… reminding us that Israel was created not only to protect its citizens, but also Jews around the world. I would never forget that feeling.

So today, on the holiest day of the year, when our Jewish tradition challenges usto reboot our lives, I begin by reloading all these core memories. These memories connect me to the path I want to follow, to the essence of who I really am, and they remind me of my purpose, my mission in life.

…As the holy day of Yom Kippur moves on, I think of my parents, my grandparents, my teachers and Rabbis, and the inspiration they give me every day, to restart and restart again.

…I think of my family and friends, and I remember that I still have so much work to do, to be the person I really want to be, more generous, more compassionate and more grateful.

…I remember that I am privileged for being a Jew, for having a role in a tradition that keeps changing and for having the opportunity to be part of that change.

…And I am also aware of how fortunate I am, for living in a time in history when there is a Jewish State that I can complain about, criticize and love at the same time.

Let me finish with a story that I heard from a dear colleague (Rabbi Fabian Werbin).

Some time ago on one of his trips to Argentina he met with two friends.  One a Catholic priest and the other a Muslim imam. They met at a coffee shop in Buenos Aires, and all put their cellphones on the table. Immediately my friend grabbed all three phones and told the others to tell him what was the most meaningful religious app they have in their phones. The priest told him that he has one called “Ask Jesus.” It brings up different passages of the New Testament. The imam told him that his app reminds him 5 times a day to pray and has a compass that points to Meccah. They were curious about my friend’s Jewish app so he told them about a new app that tells you on the spot how your New Year is going to be. That made them even more curious and they wanted to see it.  So he explained that he would let them use it but they may have to answer some odd questions. The first friend used the app but was surprised by some of the questions it asked. How many times a week do you call your mother?

Do you prefer bagels and lox over gefilte fish?  Who was your bar mitzvah tutor? He told them not to share their answers until both were finished. When both finished, they looked at the phone and smiled at my friend.  Can you guess what the app answered? The app “how is your year going to be” answered: It is up to you.

We all have work to do over these 24 hours of fasting and introspection.  For 24 hours we face our naked souls, we experience our own death and we ask ourselves what is the purpose of our lives, of our unique mission here in this world.  And then slowly, as the day wears on, tired and hungry, as we let the music, the prayers, the poetry and the study wash over us, we start to reboot our bodies and souls,capturing the moments that shapedour lives.

That is teshuvah. Coming home. Rebooting. Restarting.

Today is Yom Kippur, a sacred invitation to live our lives to the fullest and to do Teshuva – to repent and change for a more meaningful and better future.  Our future is right there, in front of us, to be the person we always wanted to be. It is up to you! May God bless us with a meaningful day of prayer and repentance, and may our teshuvah, be complete on this holy day of Yom Kippur.

K’tivah and chatimah tova!

*This sermon is based on the teachings of Rabbi Claudio Jodorkovsky, Rabbi Stephen Wise and Rabbi Laura Geller.