Elul, the Jewish month which is about to come to a close, is a time of looking backwards. Our Jewish tradition recognizes the value of taking a pause from our busy, forward-looking lives to turn around and take stock of what has already happened. The spirit of the time we are in and which we are about to enter during the High Holidays is one of reflection -- of attempting to come to terms with the past, and, based on that understanding, committing to change our actions in the future. Just as this season encourages us to do, the hundreds of interviews in the American Jewish Peace Archive provide a fertile resource for us to look back at the history of American Jewish peace activism, helping us find direction for the path we might take into the future.
The spirit of forgiveness is also with us in this time; one of the primary activities of the month of Elul is forgiving each other. It is taught in the Mishnah (Yoma 8:9) that atoning on Yom Kippur for wrongs that you did to other people does not elicit any forgiveness from God; only people have the power to forgive each other for these wrongs. The AJPA facilitates the process of forgiveness between generations of activists across the span of 50 years.
This understanding is the first step of forgiveness and moving forward together. Through hearing the stories of different generations, we can understand how each has done their best within the context of the time
Moreover, the oral history interviews in the Archive are themselves like a blueprint of how one might do teshuvah. The narratives include reflections on activists' evolving relationships to Israel from a childhood and young adulthood that often includes a personal process of turning from a romanticized narrative to
confronting difficult and painful realities
to a decision to seek to make things right . This is exactly what this season calls us to do, even in the simple act of hearing the call of the shofar. Maimonides writes in his Laws of Repentance, 3:4: "[it is] as if [the blow of the shofar] were saying, 'awake, sleeping ones, from your slumber, and those napping arise from your naps, examine your actions and return sincerely to the divine, and remember your Creator.'"
In the coming year, we hope to make the rich stories of the AJPA more widely available in order that we will be able to continue this process of collective growth and forgiveness. As you reflect on the year past and enter into a season of self-assessment, consider looking through the resources of the Archive to think also about our collective past and what we can learn from it.
Aliza Becker and Grace Gleason