Kol Nidrei, the annulment of vows.  What do these words mean?  One explanation is given at the onset of our prayer book, recalling oppressive times when keeping promises meant risking death.  But we make promises all the time, broadening the spectrum to include important events:  "Promise me you'll be there"; or chores we want to see taken care of:  "Promise me you'll do it".  In olden days, promises made to G-d were in change for circumstance of a very serious nature; restoring good health to a dying loved one or coming home safely from war, as examples. One Bibical accounting is a story of the Israelite leader Jepthah, who vowed to sacrifice the first creature to cross the threshold of his home should he return victorious from war.  Expecting a pet or small farm animal, he is dumbfounded when his daughter rushes out to greet him... The Bible does not state how Jepthah fulfilled his promise.  Did he truly sacrifice her, or did he subject her to a life of chastity?  We don't know, but we understand that unfulfilled promises can lead to feelings of disappointment, neglect or emptiness, Kol Nidrei was written to rid us of any feelings of sadness, guilt or shame.  Kol Nidrei is not a prayer; it is a declaration of humanity and to G-d (even though The Allmight's name is never invoked) stating that all of our unfulfilled promises made during the past year are now null and void, easing our minds so that we may more fuly focus on atonement.

How do we see HaSham's promises fulfilled?  That depends on one's perspective.  The earliest promise in the Torah was made to Noah, never again to destroy the earth by flood.  So far, so good, but how will it be explained, and to whom, when the cyclical melting of ice enfolds the earth in water once again?  Will some supersonic transport have carried all life to another planet or solar system?  Will all life exist under the water?  Perhaps a combination of both will perpetuate the promise.

G-d's next promise was to Abraham, to make his offspring numerous.  Given that Christians and Muslims number over half of the world's population, thepromise is fulfilled.  And without comparing ratios to the world's population...and setting aside the very serious matter of diminishment through intermarriage...HERE WE ARE, a vibrant Jewish people, strong and flourishing; the promise also fulfilled through our eyes.  The Lord delivered our ancestors, as promised, from Egyptian slavery, and led them to a promised land, the Biblical land of Canaan, the land that today we call Israel.  These are the words of the Torah.  Christians and Mormons acknowledge this in their scriptures.  The Quar'an acknowledges that the Israelites were led by Moses out of Egyptian slavery to go to an unspecified promised land, but as to rightful ownership, they believe that the promise was made to Ishmael, Abraham's first born son.  Verses are quoted by Muslims from the Torah concerning laws of rightful ownership by the first born son.  From all whose seeds are from Abraham, we see that G-d has made good on His promises, but the differences in our theologies, complicated by dictators seeking territorial supremacy, have always led to grave consequences.

If we continue to push our agendas, and exclude other's considerations, we continue down an endless path of destruction.  If we listen and work towards solutions, we can effectively make changes that benefit everyone.  Seeds of Peace is one of many organizations that seek peace by bringing Jews and Arabs together; old enough to feel the hurt of their people, young enough to listen, to be emotionally moved by the plights of others and to want to make changes for the betterment of all, after hearing those in the group express their fears, their hurt, and their hatred for the other side.  They learn why everyone wants to be part of this holy area.

Judaism has had histroically documented kingdoms established in the Holy Land and what today is part of Jordan since the time of Joshua.  Islam, like Judaism, ties itself to the land since the time of Abraham, and pushes for national recognition of the land as Palestine, a name the land was recorded as for approximately 2500 years.  Christians support Israel as the Jewish homeland, though they, too, would have just cause to claim the land as theirs, given their connection to Abraham, and te extensive recorded history of Jesus and his followers.  The founder of the Bahai faith also dwelled in the land, thus shrines and a world Bahai center have been established therein.

I believe that we are witnessing a path to peace between all of these factions.  There have been many wars since Israel's establishment in 1948, but each one ended with each country still alive.  Israel had been controllling Gaza and the West Bank as the Arab populations grew within.  As hostilities also grew, and lives were lost in Gaza, Israel agreed to abandon the Jewish settlements and cease from governing the land.  This was a significant step on this path to peace, as Muslims now, and the universally accepted world map in time will name this land Palestine.  There remains what to do with the West Bank and Jerusalem.  I believe that the West Bank, with its Jewish settlements, will also come to be called Palestine, as will part of Jerusalem.  The participants in Seeds of Peace, I believe, will come to the same conclusions.

There are those who feel that groups like Seeds of Peace are futile, or a drop of sensibility in a bucket full of hostility, given the enormity of complexities in the Middle East.  But such groups can be quite successful in changing perspectives of people and changing their lives for the better, for good, as I sang about on Rosh Hashanah.

Tim Robbins is an actor, screenwriter and producer.  Perhaps you know him as an actor from the moview Bull Durham, Mystic River or The Shawshank Redemption.  He is part of a group of acting friends who established and fund a project called the Actors Gang.  He volunteers his time to lead an 8 week acting course for prison inmates.  The prisoners he engages are serving time for serious offenses, including murder.  They put on a production at the end of the time.  They learn how to act, they learn the significance of make-up and are required to wear it, and have to wear costumes as well.  The course includes therapy sessions with mental health specialists and spiritual advisers.  They transform from having their guards up to letting them down.  They transform from being guarded to letting go.  "A lot of people are afraid to show they can be sad, or they can be happy," said an inmate in the program.  "They gotta have this mad mug all the time."  Tim recalled one inmate telling him, "I didn't realize 'til I took this class that I've been wearing a mask all this time."  In the seve years of the program's existence, Mr. Robbins has a 100% no return rate of prisoners back to prison after they are set free.  At the core of each religion is the teaching of love and forgiveness.  No forgiveness, no love, no peace.  Atonement and asking G-d for forgiveness of broken promises and sins is a universal religious practice.  Christians recite the Lord's Prayer, asking G-d to forgive one's trespasses (sometimes stated as sins or debts), as one also forgives those who do the same against him or her.  Additionally, Catholics and LUtherans use confessionals, private booths, to confess and repent for their sins.

Muslims chant from the many prayers of forgiveness found in the Qur'an.  Hindue daily prayers include asking the Lord to forgive for transfressions, known and unknown.

B'rosh hashanah yikateivu, on Rosh Hashanah our fate is written in The Book of Life, U'v yom tzom kippur yichateimu, and afte 10 day sof repentance, prayer and righteous deeds, on this designated day of fasting and atonement, our fate will be altered before it is sealed.  We have been given these days to make amends before next year's chapter in The Book is written in its final form.

John Lennon, of the Beatles, expressed a song of peace by imagining that all that adds to the richness of our world were no more "Imagine there's no countries, no religion, too, nothing to kill or die for."  Instead of eradicating all of it, we need to learn to appreciate the beauty and the worthiness of each, and find ways to coexist with them.

We all agree that G-d has created such beauy in the world.  We are grateful for the birds, the trees, the oceans.  We know that when there are dark clouds filled with rain, we will, once again, see the sun.  Some of you may think that I am cueing a song written by fellow Beatle George Harrison but, the Choral Society and I would like to sing a song I wrote about peace in the Holy Land.  One Day, Yom Echad, Arab and Jewish children will laugh together.  One day Arab and Jewish communities will grow together.  The song is a plea to G-d from the land"  "I give you sweet fruit and waters of life.  Why me, O Holy One? Why me, HaKadosh?"... when will tears be turned into smiles?  One Day ... Yom Echad.