The scent of fresh challah was timeless and unmistakable and was leading Jonah’s nose to the small bakery suitably wedged between a bookstore and a flower shop. Jonah found themself quickening their pace in Pavlovian anticipation; the sun hung heavy in the sky like a ripened apple on the local orchard’s trees. They just wanted to buy challah and go home.
The small bakery was heaving with people buying traditional treats: chocolate-filled rugelach, cinnamon babka and round challahs still on sale for Tishri, even though Rosh haShanah had come and gone a few days prior. A sweet, buttery scent lingered in the tight spaces as people mingled, their bodies closely packed, wishing each other ‘Shabbat shalom’ and ‘Shanah tovah’. When it was Jonah’s turn, they looked in the warm eyes of the shop worker, who despite the busy hour proximate to closing time, was both efficient and serene. ‘Two challahs please, friend’ Jonah smiled and with a quick flick of the wrist, the purchase was accounted for, the prize – still warm and crisp – tucked gently into brown paper bags.
The walk home wasn’t long but Jonah relished it. There was a trusty rhythm to Friday afternoons that settled the human heart with comfort and anticipation. The streets were quieting down; an occasional electric vehicle zipped by, recognizable by their white paint with a distinct green logo of hands and wheels. If empty, all one needed to do was hail one down with the flick of a wrist and a few spoken instructions later would bring the rider to their desired destination. Even so, Jonah preferred to walk, feeling a slight resistance in their gradually aging limbs. At 95 years old, Jonah wasn’t far off from entering their second century and they could expect to live more decades yet. All the more important to stay a little active. As Jonah made their way home to the small but pretty apartment they occupied alone in their communal living facility, their gaze brushed past the occasional large, curved screen set up strategically at public intersections. ‘Friday October 4th, 2239’ the chirons proclaimed. The date seemed arbitrary to their Jewish experience of time: to Jonah, it was the 5th of Tishri, 6000.’
As a young child, Jonah had looked forward to that magical date, almost ninety years ago. The world had been a far different place back then, in the 22nd century. The climate crisis had come to a head; a planet heaving under scorching temperatures, lashing weather patterns and a sprawling humanity. The smoke and smog had laid thick about choking cities, often cruelly cordoned off from desperate climate refugees who were brutalized by robotic border patrols. The summers had been unbearably hot, even in the cool part of North Western Europe, while the winters were unpredictable and vicious—often prone to icy vortexes or punishing floods. The churn of the media was relentless: 12 billion people struggling, starving, staving off disaster and doom at every turn. Growing up in such a world had been hopeless; but the hopeless was more like being accompanied by a dull and ever-present ache; an inevitable pain one seemed unable to escape. Their grandmother told different stories; of cities still dusted by snow in the winter and a human species still delusional about what was to come.
It was hard for Jonah to remember when the shift came. They remembered preparing for their Bet Mitzvah; it had been a double parashah, Behar-Bechukotai. Their teacher, a kindly rabbi, had patiently sat with the young teen who at the time seemed to have neither interest nor aptitude for learning the portion. They didn’t remember much apart from that famous line from Leviticus 25:10, ‘liberty shall you proclaim throughout the land and all its inhabitants.’ They had learned in history about a certain Liberty Bell in what once had been the United States of America before that country had slipped into totalitarian theocracy. Jonah’s own country was a walled garden; more prosperous than most but jealously guarding what little it still had. Migrants were mercilessly shot at its borders with neither recourse or recompense. Jonah had read their portion in whispers; the cruel curses of Bechokutai all too resonant for their lived experience; the bold vision of Behar all too distant to ever consider possible.
They shrugged. Those were old memories. Jonah had grown up, found love, built a family, a career. Their life hadn’t been remarkable; but was remarkable in its ordinariness among the chaos of their time. And yet, at first unnoticeable to even the keenest observer, things had started to shift.
‘Never underestimate the power of an idea’, Jonah’s childhood rabbi had encouraged the reluctant teen. Their synagogue had been humble, tucked away among the shadows of a hostile culture. It was a miracle Jonah had a Bet Mitzvah at all.
Still, Jonah had tried to live with that truth in their heart and tried to live it in small and simple ways. Every mitzvah mattered, it would accord to them decades later, when Jonah’s soul had become more fertile soil for the contemplative. Slowly, Jonah saw their world change too. Legislation to curb runaway AI. UN-wide climate acts to manage careful geo-engineering. As the planet convulsed with disparity and revolution, more and more rose up with songs of siblinghood and equality. In some senses, these songs were ancient, like the ones sung by the Israelites on the shores of the sea. But in other ways, they were new—bringing new hope and unfolding strategy. No longer were the powerful enshrined as the masses started to hold them to account. The hollowed-out democracies of yore had new life breathed into them. The changes gathered steam as people spoke dreams into being. There was a slow but steady turning of the heart; not just that of one, but of many. As the great unveiling began of all that was corrupt and ripe for downfall, another unveiling began too: of the deep, abiding interconnectedness of life—the sanctity of the vulnerable, the humanity of all, the silver threads of divinity woven through each shining star, each beating human heart, each strand of DNA, each pulsating electron set in its course.
In some ways, the old world remained. There were still shops to be ran and jobs to be had. Space ships flew hither and tither between astoroid belts and a craving earth. Babies were born and the dead were guided to their final resting place. And yet, there was a new tremor in the atmosphere that lightened the footfall of a weary humanity. Jonah found themselves humming quietly, as the golden light shifted to amber. The date was 2239 and it was Erev Shabbat.