The Days of Awe 2016

Oh no. It’s that time again, only this time without any mentions (except this one) of my hairline.


We find ourselves, you in I, in the Days of Awe, that period of time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur where one must engage with Teshuvah (repentance) in the process of atonement (or at-one-ment – props to Rabbi Danny Silverstein – perhaps more on this another year). As in previous years, before sitting down to write this I read through the messages I have written over the past 5 years that meander through profundity, pomposity, pretentiousness, and prolixity. In addition to my love for alliteration, I’m struck by the way these documents map my adult life and my changing attitude towards it. In this sense I hope that these letters not only help me to continually and critically engage with my life but also help map out our shared history. With that in mind I hope you engage with this so that together we can answer the questions I posed last year:

Are we who we want to be? How can we continually turn and face the world when it fails to match our hopes and dreams?

But what of this years’ sesquipedalian statement?

This year has seen many changes, from personal loss (Rest in Power Kay Ross), to changes in relationships and lifestyle that last Rosh Hashanah I would have never have foreseen. However these have not been wholly negative and there have been successes, particularly musically and academically (don’t worry I’m not going to plug anything!).

Reflecting on such a tumultuous period is difficult as these sudden changes challenge one’s ability to maintain a coherent sense of self, and subsequently make the writing of a perspicacious, insightful letter somewhat of a challenge.

As I noted the day after my Grandma died:

“Her death, in my small family, marks, for me, a destabilising final break with our roots in a past I can barely imagine, even though I only live a short way from where she grew up in Shoreditch a century ago.

Her later life shows vividly the negative power of patriarchy (sorry Grandpa Alan, really sticking the boot in here) as a form of oppression, and how the lifting of such bonds can lead to an amazing flowering of any person”

Yes that’s how far we’ve come; I’m quoting myself this year.

And although this seems self-aggrandising and ridiculous, it actually captures two of the forces that have consumed my attention this year. One is an attempt, although cast adrift (a familiar theme throughout previous years), to wrench the vessel of one’s life into known waters, but the second is how invisible and insidious oppression and bondage can be.

While the first is clearly a long running focus of these letters, one’s twenties themselves (life more generally?), and perhaps one of your life as well (?), the second has really come into to focus after reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ sensational ‘Between the World and Me,’ and less pretentiously, and more personally, an interaction around this time last year. This has lead to the realisation that even though one can consider one’s self an enlightened ally, a partner, a fellow struggler, there can be many ways in which one can, through inaction and a form of stony male stillness and stubbornness, help to perpetuate a Pandora’s box of complex problems. These are often, to surprisingly quote Donald Rumsfeld:

Unknown unknowns.

By that I mean an example of the Dunning-Kruger Effect (hello!), where one mistakenly inflates one’s ability due to an inability to recognise one’s own incompetence.

Here I accuse myself. I’ve always thought myself a NJB (Nice Jewish Boy), relatively aware of my own shortcomings, biases, and their impact on others. But what this year has taught me is that not only are there huge swathes of personal experience, which I (an educated, middle-class, hetero-normative white-ish male) have no idea about, but that my impact on those around me may be opaque to me in a way that my short-sighted self-righteousness and self-confidence makes ever more invisible. In this sense it is my misguided belief in my own menschness that makes it difficult to see those times in which I fail to treat others with the same sort of Chesed (had to put a bit of explicitly Jewish material in!) that I would hope from them.

Where last year I spoke of my acceptance of the limitations that I knew, this year I ask for your acceptance of my limitations, that while perhaps visible to you, may be profoundly invisible to me. And while it may take many more years and letters to get to the point where I treat you with the humanity you deserve, I hope that you will endeavour to engage me, so that my eyes will be opened, and the once invisible will be brought to light.

In this way I hope that together we may help, not only to positively shape our lives, but in doing so help those that may be invisible to us. They may be friends of friends receiving transmuted and embellished advice, or colleagues for whom our support allows them to support, save and inspire others in ways in which I (perhaps we – although that would be somewhat presumptive) am far to cowardly to face. And in a year of fear mongering, chaos, fake tan, and unwieldy fascist comb over’s, strengthen the bonds that bind us together through honesty, bravery, and compassion.

La Shana Tovah

May you be inscribed in the book of life