In helfman

Tradition (or maybe, fear of guilt) draws us in, we gather for the excitement of seeing friends we haven’t chanced upon in years. We come together for the possibility of renewal.

Here are some thoughts to help you get the most out of this Rosh Hashanah:

1. Family and Friends
Rosh Hashanah is about deepening our relationships to our fellow human beings.  We literally make this world a sweeter place whenever we gather with friends and family to dip apples into honey and eat honey cake.  Family gatherings and reunions with friends are at the core of Rosh Hashanah; each laugh, each story and each hug brings wholeness and renewal to our world. 

2. Find someone ‘new’ this year to talk to.
Rosh Hashanah reminds us that relationships are always changing, always renewing.  We have changed over this past year, and so have our friends and family members.  Take another look at that young cousin, and see the adult that they are becoming.  Take another look at your partner, your parents, your children and you will see growth and change.

A stranger or your partner, an acquaintance from a classroom from long ago or a sibling, take an opportunity this year to find someone ‘new’ to talk to and welcome into this New Year.

3. This is an opportunity to wrestle.
One message of Rosh Hashanah is that we can make our world a sweeter place through enthroning the Kingship of our duty to our planet, our fellow humans and ourselves.

But… how?  Is this what our prayer book means by God, Eternal, Divine, Ruler, Father and King?

On this Holy Day there are always the relatively small questions to struggle over: to celebrate one or two days of Rosh Hashanah; to sit in the family service or near the choir; to reach out to this friend or that friend in order to maintain a relationship.

But on Rosh Hashanah, we are confronted with issues of a different order than the rest of the year: our mortality; the quality of our relationships; who we are in this New Year; and a the struggle to work for tzedek – right – in a capricious world.

The words and the music are there to confront us. And so we wrestle:

4. The liturgy is a barrier.
The words and music don’t always reflect what we believe in our hearts.  Sometimes they are too archaic, too dissonant.  The God language can be of reward and punishment, of magical thinking and fate beyond reason.  There are moments that the words catch us, hold us back, and make us want to rebel.


Think of the liturgy like a mountain to climb, like a barrier to break through.  If you were to re-write the prayer, what would it say?  If you were to re-interpret the music, what parts would you emphasize or diminish?

Alternatively, some commentators say that one of the messages of the High Holy Days is of being unsettled, reminding us that we should not always be comfortable, we should not always get what we want.  By engaging and then moving on, we model for ourselves and our children that the strength to endure is sometimes needed when life is beyond our ability to adapt.

5. The liturgy is a guide.
The piano builds. The choir climbs to the height of its crescendo.  Suddenly the cantor’s voice thunders through our sanctuary, proclaiming in its majestic tenor that today is the Day of Judgment.  Today, all living souls are called to muster before the Eternal.

We, uncomfortable in our pews, shrink back.   In our mind’s eye we begin to see “The List” – all of our deeds which are arising within our hearts to confront us.  As our conscience begins to slowly unwind it before us, we shudder as the memory of each ‘miss’ rises to the top.  Again we promise ourselves that this year we will no longer ignore the appeals from worthy causes, this year we will stop doubting the good in others and this year we will start loving without keeping score.

The words are ancient, yet relevant, the music modern, and still beautiful.  Let them take you away.  Join in the ancient drama which our people has been refining and perfecting for thousands of years.  Every year the words are similar, yet the places they bring you are many and diverse.

6. It is about you.
When we take a look in the mirror, the changes we see are deeper than in the skin.  Who is that reflection that is studying us, judging us back?

We should be proud of whom we have become, yet sometimes there too is doubt.

On Rosh Hashanah, talk to yourself.  The people sitting next to you are engaged in their own silent conversations, and it is time to move beyond the page, beyond the room, and take account.  We hold the harshest measures in our own minds.  As Lena Dunham has written, “Any mean thing someone’s gonna think of to say about me, I’ve already said to me, about me, probably in the last half hour!”

Take some time to re-adjust those internal measures.  Be honest, but know that none of us could ever be the exact person our mother would want us to be.

7. Find something ‘new’ this year to engage in.
Being a member of a synagogue community is not like joining a gym, and I personally do not like the idea of New Year’s Resolutions.   But when you are going through your self-assessment, think about really practical and simple ways of adjusting existing routines.  Sometimes finding something ‘new’ can mean finding the ability to say ‘no.’  Finding time for self and for family is just a different way of saying yes.

I could point you to a program on our website or to a specific social justice cause, but you know yourself best.  Make a commitment this Rosh Hashanah to be open to the ‘new’ and the right program, relationship, or cause will come to the fore.  (If, as the year goes on you feel you need help in this, please feel free to come in and chat with me.)

8. Commit to being transformed.
As I said above, the message of Rosh Hashanah is that we can make our world a sweeter place through enthroning the Kingship of our duty to our planet, our fellow humans and ourselves.  By approaching this Holy Day with the right intention, the people and words that swirl around you can help you see yourself more clearly as a kind human being who spreads goodness and sweetness.

This Rosh Hashanah, this Day of Judgment, may we bring sweetness to our world by making ourselves into sweeter, more loving human beings.  And this Rosh Hashanah, full of apples and honey, may we not forget to physically spread the goodness of the Holy Day to our children and grandchildren, friends and relatives as hug them, stuff them full of honey cake, and wish them a Shanah Tovah U’mtukah שנה טובה ומתוקה – a Sweet New Year.

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