Hope Springs Eternal, Even in Fall

by Cantor Eric Schulmiller

Sigh. It happened again.

Once every ten years or so, the New York Jets, the team I’ve suffered with for nearly fifty years (but never seen play in a Super Bowl), decide to taunt me with the hopes of a successful football season. The Jets begin their season with a team that includes the NFL Rookies of the Year on both offense and defense, a core of young, hungry talent, and an ageless (but admittedly aged) Hall of Fame quarterback who has miraculously emerged from his fortress of solitude to take on the impossible mission of turning Gang Green into a post-season contender. The team also appears to be shockingly cohesive, with a positive, conflict-free locker room (at least if you believe what was shown on HBO’s Hard Knocks).

So why are you likely to find me curled into a ball of angst beside my plate of wings during tonight’s Monday Night Football NY Jets season debut? Well, these are the Jets, after all, famous for the Heidi Bowl and the butt-fumble, missed draft picks (they passed on Dan Marino and Warren Sapp!) whose last winning coach was mostly famous for having a foot fetish. Am I wrong for being a bit weary to take another running swipe at the football of hope that Lucy is holding out so temptingly within reach? Am I destined to be disappointed (ok, crushed), year after year, by the Same Old Jets?

Thankfully, the start of the football season coincides with the arrival of the High Holidays, which helps me frame my foreboding in a broader, perhaps even spiritual, perspective. The peak moment of the holidays, for me, is the Un’tane Tokef prayer. That’s when we fully acknowledge our powerlessness to fully control our own destiny. Instead, we can only ask the questions – who will live and who will die? Who will be fulfilled and who will be consumed by desire? But it is in the lugubrious litany’s denuement that I can finally take solace – as a Jew, and Jets fan: “But teshuvah, tefillah, and tzedakah make easier what God may decree. Make easier what life holds in store. Make easier facing the world. Make easier facing ourselves.”

Teshuvah: Am I being true to myself? How can I return more faithfully to the ideals that I cherish?

Tefilah: Am I connected and engaged in communities of meaning?

Tzedakah: Do I see the world beyond myself, and am I doing my best to make a difference in it?

If I can answer these questions honestly, and commit to honoring them more fully in the year ahead, then no matter what the season brings, I will be prepared to look hopefully towards a better future, as I embrace the present moment with all its challenges. The Un’tane Tokef is a reminder that change and growth are possible – for all of us, and maybe even for the Jets!

Wishing you all a year of sweetness, of connection, of growth and of hope,

Cantor Eric