A “Second” New Year

The start of a new year is a time to review, assess and plan. We review resolutions we made a year ago, reflect on how well we accomplished our goals and then wipe the slate clean, planning our list for the year to come. For Jews, the secular New Year is the perfect opportunity to do a first-quarter checkup on how well we are doing with the promises we made to ourselves on Yom Kippur.

Like financial plans, intentions to better ourselves are not meant to be static documents; rather, we should periodically assess, question and revise them. Were the goals we set for ourselves three months ago realistic? Have we or loved ones experienced unforeseen life events that need to be taken into account? Have we somehow gotten off track?

Maybe our goals and priorities have shifted. Maybe a relationship has taken on more meaning or a task more importance. Maybe our physical or mental health demands we change our habits. Maybe a new job requires us to adapt and retool.

Maybe the war in Israel and the rise of global anti-Semitism in 2014 have awakened in us a need to incorporate more Judaism and spirituality into our lives by studying Torah more often, committing to Shabbat observance or experimenting with Jewish cooking. Perhaps we are newly motivated to take steps to strengthen Israel by taking part in pro-Israel activities. Maybe we resolve to take an active role in tikkun olam by making a commitment to social justice.

Or maybe we conclude that we are on the right track and that our progress is on course.

Whichever conclusion we draw or steps we take, we are indeed lucky to have this “second” New Year, this three-month checkup.

This appeared in the Jewish Journal on January 1, 2015.

A Communal Rosh Hashanah Resolution

well-known greeting used in the days preceding Rosh Hashanah is “Tichleh shannah v’killeloteha, tachel shannah uvirchoteha.” It means, “Bring an end to the year and all its curses, and begin the New Year and all its blessings.”

The words come from a Hebrew poem written in 13th century Spain, but the sentiment
is most applicable to the end of 5774 and our hopes for 5775.

5774 was a difficult year, one we’d rather forget. It opened with the controversial findings of the Pew Report, “A Portrait of American Jews,” in early October and the U.S.-sponsored negotiations between Israel and Palestinians that took many from cautious hope to despair. Next came the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens and the calls for and acts of revenge for those murders. The growth of anti-Semitism around the globe has everyone on edge.

Hamas missiles fell on Israeli towns while Jews in our own communities were divided about Israel and Zionism. “Operation Protective Edge” and the death and destruction in its wake have left us with much uncertainty. Bring an end to the year and all its curses, indeed!

The High Holidays traditionally mark a period of 10 days during which we engage in heshbon hanefesh (deep introspection), mostly as individuals. But soul-searching is something that is incumbent upon us as a community as well. Could we have done anything to make the past year a better one? Can we do anything to make a difference in the year ahead?

The Jewish world faces many challenges that can have an impact on both Jewish life and Jewish lives (as well as the lives of others). Too often our community is unable to engage in meaningful conversation about perilous issues. The Jewish world has become averse to internal conflict, often preferring the anodyne voices of the echo chamber. One must ask: if we cannot talk among our own people, how can we ever expect to come to a peaceful resolution with others?

We should consider a communal Rosh Hashanah resolution: to learn to listen to those with whom we may disagree with open minds and hearts, and to learn to disagree agreeably.

This originally appeared in the Jewish Journal on September 25, 2014.