I learned about the Hebrew word "teshuva" a couple years ago. It means return and repentance. Here's the story of how I learned it.
In 2008, some friends from Germany were planning to visit us in the States for a joint 25th wedding anniversary getaway to Virginia.
A few weeks before, our friends reached out to us with a special request. Could we add Baltimore to our itinerary as we drove from New Jersey to Washington D.C. and Virginia?
The answer was Yes, of course, since Baltimore is on the way to D.C. No problem, we said. Why?
They said, We want to look up a person who once lived in a nearby town in Germany. She left when she was a child. She is Jewish. Her family fled the Nazis in the late 1930's. We want to tell her that her synagogue has been restored and that she is invited to come back for the dedication ceremony.
How wonderful! we thought. We sprang into action. My wife called her cousin, Fr. Bill, a Catholic priest in the Diocese of Baltimore, and he immediately said he would love to help.
Using his Baltimore contacts, he tracked down the woman and called her up on the phone. (Imagine her wonder to have a Catholic priest on the phone!) He introduced himself, giving the story as he heard it from us. She was overjoyed by the news from home in Germany and could not wait to receive us.
The day finally came. Our German friends flew into Newark Liberty Airport. We drove together to Baltimore where we picked up Father Bill who had made the contact and knew the area. Using his GPS, we worked our way to the Pimlico area of Baltimore and found the street we were after. The 75 year old woman was standing in the middle of the street waving us down.
We had a lovely visit with her and her husband. Over lunch, she told us the story of her family's life in Germany. Of the rise of the Nazi party. And of her family's escape from the clutches of evil. If they had not left, they would surely have perished as so many did.
The next year, she visited her hometown in Germany for the celebration of the dedication of the synagogue as a cultural center in memory of the Jews who had once lived there.
She said in her letter, it was the process of teshuva:
"Germany has initiated the process of Teshuva, (the Hebrew word for return & repentance) I am a Nurse, and I can tell you the only way to fully heal a wound is to open and clean it. Germany is cleaning the deep wounds perpetrated by the Third Reich: it is baring its soul for all to see. And Germany is setting a high standard to make history right. Germany has placed a memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe at its heart, in Berlin. It is confessing to the world the wrong that was done and it has done so of its own free will. It has done what is commanded of every Jew on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur; it is asking for forgiveness with a profound memorial and direct confession of the heart - a confession heard around the world. We can ask for no more."
A good friend of ours is a cantor at a synagogue here in New Jersey. She wrote:
"Living Teshuva...is a period of introspection, taking stock of our lives, considering the changes we should undertake that would align our values and our actions, and thus bring us closer to God and to one another. Whether one actually believes that the Book of Life exists, the concept of Teshuvah – repentance, turning, and returning is connected to transformation. From the first blast of the Shofar on the first day of the month of Elul, we are called upon to look inward, to return to our best and highest selves, seek forgiveness of ourselves and others, and renew our connection to God."
Looking at this world right now, we need this transformation, badly. My prayer this day is that we all undertake a period of teshuva.
Posted by Terrence Seamon, August 7, 2010.