Imagine this scenario: you are lost, totally turned around in a deep, dark forest. You have no idea which way to turn and are about to panic when you hear something approach.

Fear grips you at first. "Could it be a wild beast coming to eat me for dinner?" you wonder. But then you see another human being appear, a person like yourself, and your heart lifts.

"Surely she knows the way home," you reason. You run to greet her, tell her your story and ask for her help. She responds, "I am sorry to say I am as lost as you are, but perhaps together we can find our way home."

As the sun set Wednesday evening, Jews around the world began their observance of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. In contrast to the boisterous revelry of Dec. 31, the Jewish New Year is a somber time of soul-searching and reflection when we are called to do "an accounting of our souls" by asking these questions: "Was I the person I could have been these past 12 months?" "How can I do better in the year ahead?" (On Yom Kippur, 10 days later, we are asked to turn our attention outward by considering whom we have wronged and how to make amends, and who has wronged us and how to forgive.)

The theme running through this season is summed up in the Hebrew word "teshuvah," which freely translated means "to return" or, more broadly, to find one's way back to the place, and the person, you can and ought but have yet to be. This act of "returning" is a work in progress, never fully realized, always in front of us; a lode tar for our own personal, communal and global redemption. The language is particular to the Jewish people but the thrust, the movement, the hope imbedded in the Jewish New Year is universal: We're not home until everyone is home.

What does it mean to be "home"? What does "redemption" look like for us as individuals, as residents of Sonoma County, as citizens of the United States? A solution to our immigration crisis? Funding for education? Affordable housing? Environmental stewardship and alternative energy solutions? Security overseas and at home? Peace in the Middle East? The answers to these questions are as diverse as the people living in our country.

One thing is certain: Without dialogue, without compromise, without cooperation, we'll never find our way home. Let's face it: We are deep in the dark woods, divided by partisan politics, lost in materialism, blinded by our own narrow vision. Hope lies only in seeing the forest from the trees; recognizing that what we have in common and what is at stake for all of us far outweigh the differences that keep us a part.

It's easy to cast blame, much harder to take responsibility. Teshuvah starts with each of us, returning us to the person we ought to be, one turn of the heart at a time.

<i>George Gittleman is senior rabbi of Congregation Shomrei Torah in Santa Rosa.</i>