Happy New Year.
I know it sounds crazy. I get a lot of looks from people, not just confused at the salutation but obviously wondering if I’ve lost my mind. It’s clearly not December 31st. For those of you who don’t celebrate the Jewish New Year, welcome to the year 5780, since our calendar starts with the creation of Adam and Eve.
Rosh Hashana through Yom Kippor comprises the holiest days in the Jewish faith. A holiday marked by introspection, contemplation and honestly looking at the year gone by. Seeing its unvarnished truths. A profound dichotomy where thought and introspection over a ten day period ends with a celebration and sharing of the hopefully bountiful harvest.
There are several sects in the Jewish faith, each following their own traditions. For some that might mean separating women from men at the services, covering your head in respect, not using modern options on the sabbath, or keeping kosher. I was raised reformed, we follow the essence of Judaism but few of the actual guidelines.
Because our calendar is based on a lunar cycle, not a solar one, many honor Rosh Hashanah for two days. This is because it required a consensus among the people that it was indeed a night of the new moon. Back then, we didn’t have iPhones and digital access to the exact cycle of the moon so Rosh Hashanah was celebrated for two days to ensure the date was covered. With the ability to acknowledge the new moon easily in today’s age, other less religious Jewish sects, like mine, choose to celebrate on the actual night a new moon appears.
Rosh Hashanah begins the ritual for self examination. Were we the best version we could be? It’s the time to internally assess what we could have done better, said kinder. Could we have taken a more active role in changing what we believed needed change, engaged in more charity for those less fortunate, been there more often for those we love? Shoulda, coulda, woulda are excuses that fall by the wayside.
It’s a time of reckoning where we can acknowledge our shortcomings and seek guidance to ensure history won’t repeat itself. How many of us couldn’t use a few days a year to sit quietly and take account of our actions, or lack thereof?
This search requires an internal calm aided by slowing down our biological rhythm. That’s why Yom Kippur ends with a full days fast for those healthy enough to partake. It represents the emptiness we could feel if the crops fail us. Through fasting, we are drawn closer to those who suffer deprivation. After, we’ll hopefully turn back to the world prepared to act with love and compassion.
It’s also a chance to honor those who are no longer with us, acknowledge our shortcomings and seek guidance to ensure history won’t repeat itself.
I’m reminded of special people and moments from a bygone era, when I was too young to understand the world’s ills or consider my fate in it. A time when everyone stopped what they were doing for just a few days and came together. A true feat unto itself. There was no justification for staying away, regardless of your busy life or schedule everyone agreed- on the high holy days You Just. Show. Up.
I could always count on sitting next to my brothers, sisters, parents, aunts, uncles and cousins in a place filled with community and love. Where the music felt both strangely foreboding and comforting at the same time. Where standing together with others all longing for a better year and committed to doing whatever it took to achieve it, was reassuring. We were all participating in a tradition passed down for generations. For one brief moment our own needs- good grades, more money, a better job….weren’t the priority.
For me, the holidays are marked by the blowing of the shofar- a trumpet made from a ram’s horn-an essential and emblematic part of both High Holy Days. It has a mournful sound that I could envision my ancestors hearing a millennia before. I could see all of us joining hands and raising our voices in prayer and song with the same hopes and dreams they had- a world filled with good health, peace and harmony. On Yom Kippur, a single long blast is sounded at the end of the final service to mark the conclusion of the fast and holiday. That’s when we’d all gather at home to share and eat and laugh.
This year, Rosh Hashana began on Sunday night, September 29, 2019. It ends sundown on Yom Kippor, Wednesday October 9, 2019, with the last resounding note of the shofar.
Life is filled with turmoil, anguish and uncertainty. Each of us seeking on our own priorities- good grades, gaining popularity or notoriety, material wealth, a better job. . .For a few precious moments we are asked to put aside our devices, forsake all material comforts, ignore world events and career needs and focus on the here and now. This time each year we are asked to slow down our normally frenzied pace so we can glimpse a rare and unique opportunity to hear, see and assess life from a new perspective. Only then can we really take stock of our lives and understand how to improve it.
As I heard the shofar sound on Rosh Hashana Sunday night, I was bathed in the glow of generations past. Surrounded by ritual and acceptance I look forward to its last call on Wednesday. In between, I’ll reconnect, as I do each year, with the my heritage, history and the person I see in the mirror. Knowing I’m a compilation of those who came before and will follow after. I’ll cherish my past and allow it to fortify me for all the challenges ahead. Understanding that the sense of security and warmth I felt then is never gone, just reshaped.
May this be our best year yet.