• Jodi Samuels

All of the People

Updated: Oct 6


It’s not often you come face to face with your tormentor! On Rosh Hashana, there was a woman sitting in front of me in shul who looked vaguely familiar.


Seeing her made me feel uncomfortable and I could not figure out why. I looked up and saw her husband, one of the chief architects in causing me pain, loss, and isolation - and in igniting fury within me that helped me find my voice and become an activist. This man was one of the power players that locked Caila (age 2) out of a nursery school program. He is the man that made me question everything about Judaism and my choice to live an Orthodox Jewish life.  He is the man that promised to bring me to my knees when I went public with my fight to include Caila.


He and his wife were both in front of me. I kept thinking about his young adult daughter standing with her mom who likely recognized us from the drama. I felt extremely agitated and my concentration evaporated. 


One of the main themes during the high holiday period, from Rosh Hashana through Yom Kippur, is forgiveness. This man, who caused me so much grief, has never asked me for forgiveness. The campaign to include my daughter was public. My requests to him were personal and heartfelt. I have been vocally challenging his decision all of these years later. It is very unlikely that he does not realize the pain and distress he caused me. 


I remember learning that forgiveness comes after the apology and resolution, not before. While I did not need to forgive him, it was hard to just stand there. I was considering leaving to find another shul, but then I would miss shofar blowing. I stayed in shul and I continued to feel uneasy in the days following. 


We learn in about the amazing event known as ‘Hakhel’ in this week's Torah portion Vayelech. The entire nation would gather in Jerusalem every seven years to listen to the reading of the Torah. "Gather together the people – the men, the women, and the small children.” 


It’s such a simple but powerful message. When it comes to educating our children, they learn from their environment. If we want to teach our children to be giving, a vital part of the process is to bring them up in an environment full of active giving: acts of kindness and love for others. 


Suddenly I had clarity: the past and the terrible things that may have happened to us need not define us. In my case, my children would see the exact opposite of what their daughter saw. It’s so clear to me, no more wasted time hoping for an apology. Instead, I am choosing to spend my time investing in making the world a better place! 


This week is a powerful Shabbat between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.  Let’s begin this new year with the end in mind: we can all be agents for change in the new year!


Shana tova and Shabbat shalom