As you sit at the table for Rosh Hashanah dinner, look at the people around you. Look at your children, who look as though they have something better to do, but the truth is that being with their family is the best thing they can do tonight. Look at your mother. She won't be at ease until her special dish is served. She walks into the kitchen and back to the table, back and forth, as if she fears that if she sits down she'll never be able to get up again.
Look at the person you chose to live with, your husband or wife. You chose each other for moments such as these. Because going on a romantic trip to Paris is nice, but starting a family, protecting your children, providing for you family and loving the person who stood by you in the trenches during the war of life – that's romance.
Think of those who are missing. Because the holiday table is full of joy, but it is also full of sad shadows: The prayer that will never be recited the same way again; the way dad would fold his arms over his belly; a 78-year-old woman listening with a patient smile to a four-year-old girl telling a story that has no beginning or end; grandpa softly tapping the floor with his cane to the beat of the traditional hymns.
Look at yourselves; at the way the table defines you: Father or mother, husband or wife, child or grandchild; sometimes you are all of these at once.
Look at all of this and try to tell yourself your life's story. We are a nation of story-tellers. The Americans are innovative, the English are polite, the Italians are warm and enthusiastic, the Germans are practical, the French constantly complain, and we tell stories.
The bible is a story; our exile is a story about how the story of the bible protected us; our return to Zion is a story; every road in the State of Israel, every hill and every turn, they are all essentially stories: King Saul looking for donkeys on Route 443; the ma'apil (Jew who immigrated illegally during the British Mandate before the establishment of the State of Israel) who reached the shore near the Toys 'R' Us store in Ga'ash; three former Unit 8200 (IDF intelligence) soldiers who launch a start-up in the basement of the grandmother who arrived after the Holocaust.
Most talented people on Earth
And the family sitting with you at the table is a story. There is not one family in all of Israel whose members sit at the table and say, "Oh well, not much has happened to our family over the past 300 years." There is always a story hidden behind every wrinkle, every smile and every dish.
The stories are all different from one another, and they are all the same. The narrow alley in Tunis is identical to the narrow alley in the ghetto of Rome; and everyone, from the streets of Fes to the green hills of Transylvania, has the same great grandfather we never knew; the one with the whit beard who would tap his fingers on the windowsill while singing a holiday tune.
Try to remember yourselves as a chapter in this book. How would you write it for the readers of the next generation? How would you want your story to be told at the holiday table 100 years from now?
Because whatever happens, it will be told. So we need to ask ourselves how and when and under what circumstances do we want our story to be told.
Will it be a sad tale told to children in freezing Toronto or under the California sun? A tale in which we are the stupid ones who could not regain our composure in time and look at our lives with honesty and courage and make a significant change?
Will it be a frightening story about the world's violence? Or will it be a story about a generation that found within it the strength to create a better world, in which the land of the Jews is also the land of tolerance and hope?
Will it be a story about religion? Nationalism? Fanaticism? Will it be a tale of war or peace? Of brotherly love or war between brothers? Of a technological leap or a fall into an abyss?
Maybe in 100 years no one will remember any of this anyway and people will merely look back in astonishment at how a group of the most talented people on Earth came here and established a country in which everyone's life has meaning.
Our story is in our hands. We think that the circumstances control us, but this is not so. Who we are and the decisions we make will determine what people will say about us a century from now.
Look at the Rosh Hashanah table again. All these people are sitting beside you because once – not too many years ago – someone in Casablanca or New York, in Algiers or Berlin, in Addis Ababa or Novosibirsk stood up and said he wants to write a different story for himself.