This piece was published by one of our local weekly newspaper consortiums, Hersam Acorn, and appeared in print this week in the Amity Observer, Bridgeport News, Milford Mirror, and Trumbull Times.
This entry is my closing posting for Elul 5771. I wish you all a Shanah Tovah um'tukah - a Sweet and Happy New Year. May we all experience fully the blessing of life, and offer blessings to others through our words and deeds.
Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz
Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which begins on Wednesday, September 28 in the evening, is a very different kind of New Year to January 1st. ‘The Choosing’ is a recently-published memoir in which a Jew-by-choice and now Rabbi, Andrea Myers, tells the story of the first year her Italian-Catholic family encountered Rosh Hashanah. She was living back at home with her parents and, after a long walk to a synagogue for evening services on the first night of the New Year, she returned home late, quite exhausted. She was awoken at midnight from a deep sleep when her family, wanting so lovingly to help her celebrate, arrived in her bedroom clanging pots and pans, letting off streamers, and shouting ‘Happy New Year!’ The loud sounds more typically heard on Rosh Hashanah are the blasts of the shofar – the ram’s horn, and we usually hear those at the quite respectable time of late morning. The shofar is, however, metaphorically, our communal ‘wake up’ call.
While the secular New Year is a time when many people make ‘New Years’ Resolutions’, the Jewish New Year marks a period of time when we first look back at our deeds from the past year. Our worship liturgy speaks of God who holds us accountable, but the inner work that the New Year requires of us is really about how we hold ourselves accountable and take responsibility for our mistakes, the hurt we have caused others, and the ways we have behaved unethically or thoughtlessly. If we really engage in this spiritual work, we can emerge ten days later, at the end of Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement – transformed. If we have the courage to speak to those whom we have hurt, and ask forgiveness, we can transform the relationships we have with others.
In the world we live in today, it almost feels deeply unfashionable to talk of a spiritual practice and a faith community that asks us to engage in a personal accountability inventory in this way. There are those who speak in the name of faith, or offer spiritual paths, that emphasize what these things can do for you. What about what we can do for others? Faith is not about wish fulfillment. It is about the meaning and purpose of our very existence as human beings. It is about being fully present to life and to each other in all of the downs as well as the ups. It is about the hard work of doing things together as communities with shared values, recognizing that no one person is more important than another, yet at the same time each and every one of us is necessary and has a unique voice to add as we work together to make things better.
As the Jewish community arrives at Rosh Hashanah, my hope and prayer is that we can learn from the wisdom of our ancient faith traditions, and hear the sound of the shofar as our alarm clock, reminding us of the perils of living in too much of ‘me’ society and not enough of an ‘us’ society. The spiritual work of taking account, repairing what we can, and rededicating ourselves to the future takes courage and strength. May we, by coming together, give each other the courage and strength that we need.
Shanah tovah u’m’tukah – May it be a sweet and good year for all.