I start almost every day at The Q St. Diner in South Portland. I first went there a few years ago to meet someone who told me the food was good. I liked it enough to go back and keep going back. The food is good, but that is not what brings me back there every day. This diner is a local equivalent of the famous bar in Cheers, where everybody knows your name. From the owner, to the waitresses, to the other patrons that I see almost every day, I always get a friendly greeting by name and a chance to get caught up on all of the day’s events.

These days I am somewhat preoccupied when I go there. I have been preparing for the Jewish High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur that are upon us. These special days for Jews throughout the world are in some ways like the Super Bowl for rabbis. We have to prepare sermons, review prayers and liturgy and prepare to meet our congregants, some of whom will not be seen in synagogue until next year’s High Holy Days.

This is also a time that we dedicate for personal reflection and introspection. We think of aspects of our lives where we have fallen short and where we might want to make changes. We also bring to mind all of the good things that we have accomplished and try to imagine doing more in those areas. We understand that fundamental changes do not happen instantly. If, however, we examine ourselves and identify issues where we need work, we can begin to see change occur. We believe that God created life and also gave us the power to change life. Our faith in God has to include faith in hope and faith in transformation. We must also have faith that we will be forgiven for past mistakes and faith that we can change.

It seems that the Jewish High Holy days are all about repentance, change and forgiveness. We believe that if we are sincere in our desires, God will forgive us our sins as Yom Kippur draws to a close.

There is one big exception. Any sins that we commit against other people cannot be forgiven by God. We must ask forgiveness from those against whom we have sinned to get atonement from them.

I begin to think about all of the people with whom I interact in the course of any given day. I run through a mental checklist … family, friends, congregants, business associates.

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Have I done something, either knowingly or unknowingly, that has hurt or otherwise impacted negatively upon someone else? I can think of a few instances where I will need to make amends.

Have I thought of everybody? All of us deal with so many different people in the course of a year. My goal every year is not to wait until this time of year to make amends with those who are in my life.

If we live every day as if it were our last, we would be more likely to ask forgiveness and to forgive others every day of our lives.

It is often said that the secret to a happy marriage is to not go to bed angry with each other. To do so often requires a discussion that is followed by an apology from one and forgiveness from the other.

During these High Holy Days, I come back around to thinking about my friends and acquaintances at Q St. Diner.

My relationship with them is symbolic of all of the relationships in my life.

While some may be more meaningful than others, everyone I meet is important to me and should be treated with respect and honor. I hope this season, with its focus on reflection, change and faith in God who loves us and helps us, will help bring all of us closer together.

Rabbi Gary Berenson is the Executive Director of the Maine Jewish Museum and serves as the rabbi of Etz Chaim Synagogue in Portland. He can be reached by email at [email protected]


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