Absolute silence. Absolute darkness. In this room, the senses search for information, but find almost none. They are satisfied solely by a lonely smell of old wood which wafts through the air.
In the distance, quietly at first, the smell of wood gains a companion. Footsteps can be heard, growing louder as they draw nearer. They are patient, measured steps. The steps of a man who is confident about where is he going, and comfortable about how to get there.
A creaking sound as an old door opens. A swatch of light casts itself over an unsteady pine floor. Dust hangs above the floor, illuminated by the splash of light.
The man steps into the room, his shadow leaving a sliver of light where a swath once lay. His steps have become a little more hurried, and just a touch less certain – they betray a nervousness, hiding beneath the man’s own consciousness. A scratching sound, a match is lit – and the man’s face is illuminated.
It is the face of a young man. No wrinkles or age mar its perfect surface. The eyes are alight with enthusiasm and laced with serenity. The face does not drain the match’s wildly flickering light – it adds to it. The face is beautiful..
The young man slowly moves the match to a nearby candle and lights it. With fits and starts the candle gains its full strength, casting the room in a steady warm glow – and revealing its treasure.
From one wall to another, the room is filled with musical instruments An orchestra waits silently. It is the stringed instruments which have steeped the room in the smell of old wood.
With a breath, the young man extinguishes the match and closes the door. The candle, steady in its light, provides the room’s only illumination.
With cat like movements, the young man settles into a wooden stool. With a breath, he closes his eyes and concentrates, his soul struggling to inhale the beauty of the room.
Hours pass, the candle burns lower and still the young man sits, deep in concentration, his brow furrowed as the room surrounds him.
And he begins to age. Slowly at first, and then more quickly. Smoothness is replaced by wrinkles, confidence by worry. Happiness with despair. And light with darkness.
The room remains silent – a collection of old instruments gathering dust.
The candle flickers – and dies.
A lone ragged breath scratches the air. It is the breath of an old man, and a weary one. Finally, limbs can heard moving, cracking with age. The man is rising. And now he is walking, slowly and carefully – his chair scraping noisily as he drags it behind him.
And then he is seated once again. Silence.
And then a violin note rings out, ripping open the silence of the room .
Another note, shaky and uncertain, follows.
Note by note, hour by hour, the old man learns to play.
Time, measureless time, passes and a tune begins to form. It is a slow tune. An uncertain tune. But with time it grows more confident. With time it becomes more joyful. And with time another kind of light begins to fill the room.
The wrinkles fade away as the young violinist plays. The walls reverberate with the notes, dust falls from the ceiling as the music plays. The violinist sways, his eyes shut with concentration. His body reborn in the music.
Instrument after instrument is picked up, learned and played. Each one is left shaking with the embers of its last notes.
The light grows still stronger.
The room is overwhelmed with the warmth of the light, the young man’s face beaming with joy and accomplishment as the final ecstatic notes roll off the last instrument in the room.
The man puts down the last of the instruments and closes his eyes.
He hears the orchestra playing in his head, together, and with a nod of acknowledgment, experience and understanding, his spirit leaves him.
And the orchestra play on.
“Saving a single life is comparable to saving the entire world”
This has in a few ways been a rough year for me. As many of you might recall, in last years report I was talking about Chai a Day (www.chaiaday.org) and the need to keep ultimate goals in sight even while changing methods of reaching them. This year, I’m not changing my methods, I’m learning about the methods I have chosen. In a variety of ways I messed up the launch of Chai a Day. The site was only stable in March of 2000, although we started sending out checks and getting press in December of 1999. After a great round of press, we weren’t prepared to accept donors (the web site didn’t work) and we lost a number of potential donors. Since then we have been polishing the Chai a Day service and moving towards a slightly adjusted concept – Give Daily, which I’m not going to go into now. Because of the troubles I faced with Chai a Day, I became discouraged, stressed out, and generally a lot less fun than I normally am. Nothing horrible – but while I started last year brimming with confidence and energy, I lost a great deal of that as my initial vision failed to take air. I became more and more discouraged as I got down to managing the various aspects of Chai a Day and I fell away from being truly productive by constantly building and creating and by getting more people excited about what Chai a Day had to offer. You can’t do this sort of gig without an infectious energy – and over the course of the year, I lost a lot of that. And the loss of energy affected every part of my life; not only Chai a Day, but my paying jobs as well.
I made a mistake. I was too concentrated on hearing the orchestra playing, on imagining the effect Chai a Day could have on the daily lives of lots and lots of people. I felt I wasn’t accomplishing anything because I wasn’t reaching the numbers I had expected to.
And then a friend of mine called me up and told me I had converted him to one of my more controversial opinions. And I realized that I had accomplished quite a bit. And I realized that I had to be aware of what I had succeeded in doing in order to accomplish my goals. We have about 60 donors. 60 people who made the decision to sign up. I was busy focusing on converting the masses and I forgot that encouraging and enabling even a single person to give Tzedakah is important. There isn’t any music unless somebody is playing the violins.
So going into this coming year, I want to make an effort to learn to play the instruments. I can’t waste my time imagining the orchestra – it doesn’t exist yet. I can’t accomplish what I want to accomplish without reaching individuals, without sharing the vision with them – and without exciting them about the possibilities Chai a Day has to offer.
So that is my Rosh Hashanna resolution – not to beat myself up for not drawing in more people, but to realize the excitement and the importance of bringing in each individual donor. Because this last year was a successful year, a very successful year. And it could have been far more successful had I recognized it for what it was.
On an only slightly different note, next week I am moving to Oregon to be with Lisa, my girlfriend. Where I imagine masses of people, Lisa sees and loves working with individuals. Where I want to introduce Pushka Packs into thousands of schools, Lisa wants to go to those schools and teach the individual children about charity. G-d willing, Lisa and I will be working on a great many things, including Chai a Day, together. And G-d willing our efforts will be complementary and we will be able to play the instruments and conduct the orchestra and add beauty to the world in every part of our lives.
As is the tradition, Yom Kippur is a time to ask and give forgiveness – to remove the ill will of the past year so that the next year can be greater and more positive and so that we can purge the evil we have done to others when we stand before G-d. G-d can not forgive us for the hurt we have caused other people, only those people can. In this vein, I ask forgiveness from all of you for anything I may have done to offend, hurt or damage you – whether I am aware of it or not. Call or e-mail me if you forgive me. This year has been a little more rough than most – and I know I’ve hurt certain people and not performed up to the reasonable demands of others. So I would like to ask your forgiveness. And of course, I would like to extend my own forgiveness to all of you. If any of you have hurt or slighted me, you are forgiven.
May we all have a successful year, a year of light and of life, a year when solid foundations are laid, confidences built, and beauty created. May we have a year of accomplishment, and may we see how to measure those accomplishments correctly.
May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life.
p.s. If you want to learn more about Chai a Day, e-mail me – I would love to tell you about it.