Sharon Davidson: My Unetanah Tokef
[This post shares the beautiful blessing poem by new CBB member Sharon Davidson. It was originally recorded and aired as part of her other Jewish home of Congregation Beth El in San Diego for their online High Holy Day services this year. We share it here today, thrilled to have Sharon’s intelligent, compassionate, and warm presence in our own CBB community by an unforeseen “silver lining” blessing of the Covid-19 lockdown. -Ed.]
L’Shana Tova to my beloved virtual Beth El community!
This will be my own Unetanah Tokef: “Let me proclaim the sacred power of this day, profound and awe-inspiring.”
Year after year, I have chanted this prayer within the familiar embrace of my Beth El community, husband, family and friends.
Every year, I grapple with this piyyut, my center of gravity for the High Holy Days.
But this year has been unlike any of those other years from the “time before”.
And this year I am struggling with Unetanah Tokef on my own, without my husband of almost 52 years,
Though still able to take comfort from my virtual Beth El community.
And because so much in our lives has been transformed,
It is with great humility, but also with chutzpah, that I will adjust the focus of this ancient plea.
My unconventional rendition of Unetanah Tokef for this Yom Kippur, will instead ask “how”, not “who”.
How did I get to live out last year when so many did not?
How did I escape the plague, when so many succumbed?
How did I thrive in harmony and tranquility when so many were afflicted?
How was I able to quench my hunger and thirst when so many starved?
How was it that I dwelt in comfort when so many lost homes and jobs?
How did I pass unscathed under that celestial shepherd’s staff?
How was my Teshuvah, Tefillah or Tzedakah superior to theirs,
That I was written on the right page in the Sefer Hachaim?
How did they get prodded into the wrong column by that fearsome staff,
Stricken by premature deaths, by hunger, by natural catastrophes, by fire, by crime, by cold, by senseless hatred,
By homelessness, poverty, despair, and from the dreaded COVID 19?
Surely there was no exceptional zchut, or merit, that elevated me above last year’s victims.
So how can I make meaning from all of this?
And, if given another chance, how can I make myself worthy of retaining my place in this precarious universe?
How will I make my life count without making vows that I can’t keep?
In fact, the answer has been in front of me all along,
The Torah actually teaches us the “how.”
The Torah exhorts us to Uvacharta B’chaim, to choose life and its blessings.
God teaches us that this is not so “remote from us, that it is very close, in our mouths and in our heart.”
Therefore, if my name shows up in the Sefer Hachaim for the coming year,
My Teshuvah will be to fully embrace the wondrous gift of my life.
I will nurture my enduring gratitude for the miracles of family, friendship, health, curiosity, Judaism, and Zoom.
I will cherish the astonishing ability to experience profound joy and “radical amazement” (Heschel),
With a heart that can still beat both to exist and to love.
I will seek out opportunities to perform “micro-cheseds” with dear ones and strangers, the “haves”, and especially the “have nots”.
B’li Neder, without taking a vow, these promises I think I can keep.
And so, I will close my personal Unetanah Tokef .
With the quintessential blessing, the Birkat Hakohanim, for us and for all of creation.
May The LORD bless you and protect you.
May The LORD deal kindly and graciously with you.
May The LORD bestow His favor upon you and grant you peace.
Sharon Davidson is a mother of two sons, Mark and Aron, with two fabulous granddaughters, Hannah (14) and Bela (9). She has been active as a volunteer for decades in the San Diego Jewish community and a member of Congregation Beth El of La Jolla since 1976, and a member of CBB since September 2020! Professionally, she has been a management consultant since the mid 80’s, working primarily in the non profit sector, and has worked extensively with volunteer boards, consulting on governance practices.