“To everything there is a season and a purpose under heaven” (Kohelet 3:1-8).
Like many, I usually frame my life in seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, seasons, years, and decades. This is my choice, and it is also my choice under which wider framework of time I live in.
Is my workday 9-5 or do I chose to have flexible hours that improve the quality of my life? Do I live in a continuum of anger or sadness based on the past and fear and anxiety about the future – or do I chose to live in the moment and abandon the stresses that other constructs of time can create?
I once asked a Bedouin how long it took to get someplace and his answer was one and a half cigarettes. We all measure time in our own way.
Growing up in South Jersey, I had two calendars. As a child, it was very confusing. Time was a part of my identity and having two timeframes gave me two identities often in conflict with each other. On one hand I wanted to play in Little League, on the other hand the games were often on Saturdays when I wanted to be in synagogue. I went to public school, but had to take days off for Jewish holidays and then make up the work like a punishment. I was surrounded by Christendom in the Spring and Winter as the world around me had Easter egg hunts and piped in Christmas carols. In the meantime, I was celebrating Passover, the Festival of Spring and Freedom and then Hanukkah, The Festival of Lights and national liberation and rededication.
When the High Holidays came, services at Temple Beth Shalom were like a homecoming. College students returned, as did people who had grown up in the community and had moved away to start their own families. Everyone came to shul! The hallways were packed with reunions and community.
The world outside our bubble didn’t care or mark this time. For the rest of my neighbors and friends these holidays didn’t exist. They measured time differently.
Imagine what it would be like if things were reversed. If December 25 came and no one noticed it was Christmas. What if people gathered for Friday night dinner together whether they were religious or not because Friday night dinner was a sacred time for family? Imagine that Saturday was a day of rest for the whole country. What if all the cleaning products went on sale the month before Passover because the whole country was preparing for the same holiday that you were looking forward to celebrating?
That is what time is like in Israel.
Each week on Friday and Saturday, we say “Shabbat Shalom” to everyone on the street. On Hanukkah, we walk down the street and see candles in every window. On Yom Kippur there are no cars in the streets – They are packed full of people walking and kids on bicycles. On Sukkot, every backyard and balcony forms a patchwork of sukkot.
Now, with Rosh HaShanah upon us, the stores are full of sales for new clothes, appliances and food. Apples and honey as well as pomegranates and other traditional food for the holiday is being promoted and there are banners wishing everyone a happy and sweet new year.
In Israel, I now live my life according to my calendar. There is no conflict of identities or time. Time in Israel is more meaningful for me. In New Jersey, it separated and alienated me from the surrounding culture.
David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, said “Time can work for us or against us, depending upon how we use it.” I believe everything in life can be an opportunity, including time, and we can control it, how we use it and how meaningful it is to us.
One of the things I have learned in the last few years is that when I am overwhelmed, the situation is easily remedied by giving myself more time. If there is a deadline, extend it. If you miss an opportunity, focus on the next one or accept that it was not meant to be.
The great orator Abba Eban, Israeli minister and UN ambassador, famously said, “The Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” However, their lost opportunities are also ours.
I teach the clients for whom I work as a business consultant not to be opportunistic, but rather to be proactive in setting and achieving their goals. Where there are no opportunities, we can create them. Where we feel there is no time, we can create it.
For three years I lived a block away from the woman I was to marry. We had never met despite having numerous friends in common, going to the same synagogue and living a few houses away from each other. Five months after my divorce was final and two weeks after her final paperwork came through we met first in a business meeting, then at dinner with a mutual friend. The week before we met, she had met my children when her son invited them home after Shabbat services to play Risk. We were all ready and the timing was right. A year and a half after we met, this past May, we got married.
Just as we started to talk about marriage, the apartment below mine was put on the market. Sara had been looking to buy something in the neighborhood for the previous three years. Now the time and the place was right. With seven children between us, we are now connecting the two apartments to form our new home. The timing was right.
As we head into the new year, the new season we demarcate this Rosh HaShanah, I want to take the opportunity to bless you with the awareness of good timing in your life. May you measure time according to your values and priority and live your life with those who share this with you.
Israel, like you, is always at a crossroads. Each new year and each new moment is an opportunity.I look forward to sharing these with you as the people of Israel move forward in achieving miraculous accomplishments every day, every week, every month, every breath.