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high holidays

Who By Fire, Who By Water — and Who By Lack of Health Care?

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This year I am leading Rosh Hashanah services for the first time, which means I have been spending a lot of quality time with my machzor (High Holiday prayer book). I’ve always been someone who feels really stressed out about the High Holidays even as my belief in God wavers from day to day. The High Holidays feel really intense to me no matter where my faith is. Rosh Hashanah is, literally, Judgement Day, and that freaks me out.

One part of the service that I’ve been working on a lot is the Unetaneh Tokef, with the famous image of God as a shepherd—each of us walking below God’s staff. How many will die, how many will be created? Who will live, and who will die? I’ve been muttering these words to myself for days, trying to hit the melody just right.

The most famous excerpt is as follows:

On Rosh Hashanah it is inscribed,

And on Yom Kippur it is sealed.

How many shall pass away and how many shall be born,

Who shall live and who shall die,

Who shall reach the end of his days and who shall not,

Who shall perish by water and who by fire,

Who by sword and who by wild beast,

Who by famine and who by thirst…

I practiced all weekend, and then on Monday we got word that there is, once again, an effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. A new bill, the Graham-Cassidy Health Bill, is making the rounds, and it’s full of terrifying policies. Insurers can go back to denying coverage for preexisting conditions. There are lifetime caps and annual caps. Premiums would go up 20 percent or more in the first year. The Medicaid expansion is gone in this bill, which would leave millions of people around the country without coverage. This one hits especially close to home, because my daughter is on Medicaid.

Reading about the plan all I could think of were those words from Unetaneh Tokef. Who will live, and who will die?

I felt suddenly chilled, and nauseous.

Our lawmakers are actually deciding that on these very days. Not only that, but their opportunity to make this happen ends on September 30th, otherwise known as Kol Nidre, the beginning of the Day of Atonement.

On these, the holiest days of the year, will the men and women in the Senate vote to take health care away from millions of people? Will we let them?

In the Unetaneh Tokef, it says that repentance, prayer and charity are the only things that can decrease the severity of God’s decree against any of us.

But with Graham-Cassidy, I’m not sure that’s enough. We need to pray with our feet, as the saying goes.

If we don’t step up and call our senators (especially those of us with senators who may be on the fence) and demand that they save our health care, the decree could be as serious as a heart attack–literally.

Who will live, and who will die?

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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