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About the Year in Review

It started simply enough. One Rosh Hashanah Rabbi Katie included in her evening sermon a few sentences about the events of the past year. I liked that: it felt true, important. I suggested we do it again the following year, but more fully. What if it became a separate thing, not part of the sermon? Katie agreed and, being a good leader, delegated it to me. I’ve done the Year in Review every Erev Rosh Hashanah since 2010.

I’ve been standing in front of audiences for over 40 years, but the response I get to the Year in Review is different from anything else I’ve experienced. People heartily thank me (but I’ve been thanked before). Some ask me to email them a copy (but I’ve been asked for scripts before). So what’s the difference? My hunch is that the Year in Review meets a need. A need that we may not have even known we had, for communal orientation. The Year in Review is a collective marking of time, an acknowledgment of what we have lived through, are living through.

Here's The Year in Review for Rosh Hashanah 5784 ( September 2023 ).

The Year in Review: 5783

Compiled by Charlie Varon & Myra Levy,

with help from Lisa Garbus, Abby Miller, Janet Varon & Eduardo Muñoz

Read by Charlie & Lisa at Or Shalom Rosh Hashanah services, 9/15/2023


We gather this evening as a community, witnesses to the passing of another year. We remember, we reflect, we take stock.


Since we gathered here a year ago, the Earth has completed another orbit around the sun.




It was a year of extreme weather, record-high temperatures, flooding in Pakistan,  Greece and Libya, and wildfires in Canada and Maui, among many other disasters. 


As one environmentalist put it: “This is the part of the story where the plagues begin.”


It was also a year when green energy moved from the age of innovation to the age of adoption, with governments around the world pouring trillions of dollars into clean energy to cut the carbon emissions that are warming the planet. Globally, new investment in renewable energy has now surpassed new investment in fossil fuels. 


In the last year, the House January 6th Committee completed its investigation and report. 


There have been guilty verdicts for more than 700 people who joined in the conspiracy to overturn the 2022 election and undermine American democracy–with prison sentences as high as 22 years. And yet, many who supported, schemed, and covered up the attempted coup are still in positions of power today.


In the last year Donald Trump was indicted on 91 felony counts. So far he has been arraigned in New York, Florida, Washington DC, and Georgia. 


In the last year, the war in Ukraine continued. Ukraine’s President Zelensky addressed Congress, the US agreed to supply cluster munitions, and Yevgeny Prigozhin and his Wagner Group mutinied and marched toward Moscow. Two months later Prigozhin died in a plane crash; Russia’s aviation authority offered no comment. This week North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pledged full support to Putin.


In the last year, the grain Export Deal Between Ukraine and Russia was suspended by Russia, exposing countries in the global South to increasing food insecurity.


In the last year, American basketball star Britney Griner was released from a Russian prison, and Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was sentenced to an additional 19 years. 


In the last year, there was a coup in Niger, the Chinese government staged military exercises near Taiwan, and Finland joined NATO.


Britain crowned King Charles, Mohammed bin Salman was appointed prime minister of Saudi Arabia, and Xi Jinping began his third term as China’s president. 


In Brazil, Lula defeated Bolsonaro; in Turkey Erdogan won another term; and in the UK, Liz Truss became the shortest-serving prime minister in Britain’s history.


In Israel, Bibi Netanyahu and his new, far-right government began a scheme to take power away from the judiciary, setting off a national crisis, with hundreds of thousands of Israelis demonstrating in the streets. The pro-democracy protests are now in their ninth month.


In the last year, the Chinese economy slowed down, French president Macron signed a law raising the pension age from 62 to 64. And in Iran, authorities continue to arrest and detain women’s rights defenders. 


Spain’s women’s soccer team won the World Cup, and the head of Spain’s soccer federation was suspended for sexual harassment.


In the last year, India landed a spacecraft on the moon, the US shot down a Chinese balloon, and the Titan submersible sank to the bottom of the ocean. 


It was a year when Turkey, Syria and Morocco were devastated by earthquakes, and more than 5 million Sudanese fled their homes as a power struggle raged between rival military factions.  


In the last year, Japan began releasing radioactive wastewater into the ocean, from the Fukushima nuclear plant, which melted down after the tsunami 12 years ago.


In the last year, the World Health Organization declared that COVID 19 is no longer a global health emergency, and President Biden said the pandemic is over. Not everyone agrees. To date, nearly 7 million people worldwide have died from Covid.




In the 2022 elections Democrats surprised the pundits, and kept control of the Senate. Republicans barely won a majority in the House of Representatives, and elected Kevin McCarthy Speaker on the 15th ballot. 


In the past year, President Biden signed a law expanding US production of semiconductor chips, and a law ensuring that a future Supreme Court cannot invalidate same-sex marriages. 


President Biden approved the Willow oil drilling project, while also revoking other Trump-approved drilling leases in Alaska, preserving 13 million acres of wilderness.


In the last year, the Supreme Court struck down affirmative action in college admissions, blocked President Biden’s executive order for student loan forgiveness, and also upheld the law that gives preference to placing Native American children with adoptive Native families.


In the last year, Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito were found to have taken large gifts from billionaire MAGA supporters, while ruling favorably on related court cases.


In the last year, a judge in Montana ruled that the state has a constitutional obligation to protect its residents from climate change. 


The battle over reproductive freedom continues, with 22 states now banning abortion or restricting the procedure to earlier in pregnancy than the standard set by Roe v. Wade. As a result, women often must travel to other states for abortion services.


In the last year 17 states passed restrictions on medical care for transgender people. Many of these laws are being challenged in court.


It was a year of strikes by writers and actors in Hollywood, and a year of bank failures in Silicon Valley. A year when the US economy defied gloomy predictions, with unemployment falling to 3.5 percent. And it was a year when poverty among American children more than doubled, as Pandemic safety net programs were defunded.


In the last 24 hours, the United Auto Workers union began a simultaneous strike against Detroit’s three biggest automakers, for the first time in history.


It was a year when a deal was reached to try to keep the Colorado River from going dry. And a year when five large insurance companies stopped issuing homeowner policies to cover damage from natural disasters. 


In the last year, tens of thousands of migrants arrived in New York, Los Angeles and other cities, some of them bussed there by Republican governors in Texas and Florida. Providing for these migrant families has become a humanitarian crisis.


It was a year of culture wars, book bans, and a Florida law mandating that public schools teach students that some Black people actually benefited from being enslaved. 


It was a year when gun violence remained the leading cause of death for American children and teens, and a year when hate crimes continued to plague the country. 


In the last year, Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, was beaten to death by Memphis police officers after a traffic stop. In situations where civilians pose little to no threat to police, Black Americans are three times more likely to be killed than white Americans. 


Meanwhile, since the murder of George Floyd, more than 100 American municipalities now have unarmed, non-police crisis response teams. 


In the last year President Biden established an interagency group to counter antisemitism and Islamophobia.


In the last year, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued a warning about the impact of social media on youth, and called young people’s mental health “the defining public health crisis of our time.”


In the last year, brain implants allowed a paralyzed man to walk, and NASA successfully tested its asteroid deflection technology


In the last year, ChatGPT released a new edition, and now has over 100 million users. Some computer scientists called for a pause on developing artificial intelligence, and others suggested it might kill us all.


In the last year, Elon Musk took control of Twitter and rebranded it, using the Roman numeral 10.


In California it was a year of atmospheric rivers, record snow and rainfall, flooding, and an end to the drought. 

California’s Senator Feinstein has remained in office, despite concerns about her fitness to serve and pleas for her resignation. 

In the last year, the California Reparations Task Force made 115 recommendations for how the state should compensate those harmed by enslavement and historical atrocities.


In the last year, no one on death row in California was executed. The last execution in our state took place in 2006. It is unlikely the death penalty will ever be used again in California. 


In San Francisco it was a year of homeless sweeps, a court order temporarily banning homeless sweeps, and a record high office vacancy rate.

In the last year, San Francisco honored a man killed in an anti-Asian attack, by renaming a street after him: Vicha Ratanapakdee Way.


In the last year, San Francisco was branded by some national media outlets as a failed city, and yet many of us continue to live our lives here in relative harmony and even try to make things better. 


This was the year when driverless cars proliferated in San Francisco. It was also the year when someone discovered that putting an orange traffic cone on the hood of a driverless car confused it and caused it to shut down. 



In the last year… 

The world lost Jiang Zemin, Pope Benedict XVI, Silvio Berlusconi, Barbara Walters, Pele, Loretta Lynn, Pharoah Sanders, Barbara Ehrenreich, Paul Reubens aka PeeWee Herman, Sinead O’Connor, Tony Bennett, Alan Arkin, Tina Turner, Jimmy Buffet, Vida Blue, Harry Belafonte, Dame Edna, Daniel Ellsberg, David Harris, Fred Ross, Jr., Chris Strachwitz, Jerry Mander, Wayne Shorter, Bay Area radio legend Scoop Nisker, and disability rights activist Judy Heumann. 


And in the last year we lost hundreds of San Franciscans to accidental drug overdoses.


In our community in the last year…

We welcomed our new rabbi, Rabbi Faryn.

We celebrated new babies, b’nai mitzvah, graduations and weddings.

Teeth were lost, new teeth grown.

Many hours of homework were done.

Many items were purchased online that turned out to be disappointments.


Parents and grandparents took care of children.

Adult children cared for aging parents.

A lot of us did the best we could for our loved ones.

We continue to deal with uncertainty and unknowns at every level: in our personal lives, our family lives, our communities, our country and our world.


In the last year…

Activists organized for justice, for democracy, for universal health care, for voting rights, for climate justice and environmental sustainability – not giving up on humanity or the planet. 

Around the world millions of people worked for universal access to safe food, shelter and clean water.


In the last year…

Without warning or preparation, human beings entered into moments of intense joy.


In the last year…

Some of us have lost family members and friends. Charlie and I both lost our fathers.

Some have struggled with illness, injury, addiction, and unemployment.

Some have been blessed with healing and new beginnings.


Let us reflect on what we have learned this past year:

What we’ve learned about ourselves.

What we’ve learned about loved ones and about our community.

What we’ve learned about the world.

What we’ve learned about our purpose in life. 




This is the 14th Rosh Hashanah when we as a community have looked back at the global, national and local events of the year. 


This practice has taught me that there’s much we cannot foresee and little we can control. But we can help shape what’s possible. It’s up to us to find ways to work for the kind of city, country and world we want to live in. 


As Scoop Nisker, of blessed memory, used to say: “If you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own.”

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