On Sunday night at sundown, Jews all over the world will be celebrating Rosh Hashanah, colloquially known as The Jewish New Year. The words translate to ‘the head of the year’ and is considered the birthday of the world. It is one during which people attend services and join with family and friends around a communal table, sharing food, love and gratitude for another turn around the sun. It is the onset of the High Holy Days that comes to a crescendo on Yom Kippur. To me it has always been about do-overs, with realigning myself with renewed purpose; turning over a new leaf, as it were. The Hebrew word t’shuvah which is what we are asked to do as a component of the holiday, is just that…turning. We are all called on to do that each day, regardless of our faith tradition.
In my childhood synagogue called Congregation Beth Torah in Willingboro, NJ, I would sit next to my father in services, as he wrapped his tallis (fringed prayer shawl) around his shoulders and I would play with the fringes and sometimes sneak underneath it with him. Such sweet memories enwrapped in that experience as well. The singing, praying and chanting would go on for hours. One thing I never understood and to this day, and still am puzzled about is the concept of ‘being written in the book of life for another year, or a sweet new year.”, which is what are told the holidays are about. Did that mean that if someone had trauma or tragedy in their lives or died, that it made them bad people or somehow unworthy of another chance? As an adult, I realize that things happen and people die, regardless of their circumstances or intention.
Judaism is a religion filled with symbolism. A ram’s horn called a shofar is blown, as a clarion call, a wake up/shake up to the opportunity to practice tikkun olam (repair of the world), to connect with our fellow planetary dwellers, regardless of country or religion of origin, regardless of skin color or ability, regardless of gender or gender identity, regardless of sexual orientation.
A food combo eaten at Rosh Hashanah is apples dipped in honey, to symbolize a sweet year.
Another fond memory is attending services at Temple Beth Or in Kendall, Florida, I would immerse myself in words and sound once more as Rabbi Rami Shapiro offered his insights into the meaning of the holidays. He and other members of the congregation wrote a prayer book that was filled with poems, blessings and prayers that spoke to my heart, even more deeply than those of my childhood synagogue. It introduced me to the music of Rabbi Shefa Gold and the writings of Judy Chicago.
And then all that has divided us will merge
And then compassion will be wedded to power
And then softness will come to a world that is harsh and unkind
And then both men and women will be gentle
And then both men and women will be strong
And then no person will be subject to another’s will
And then all will be rich and free and varied
And then the greed of some will give way to the needs of many
And then all will equally share in the Earth’s abundance
And then we will all care for the sick and the weak and the old
And then all will nourish the young And then all will cherish life’s creatures
And then all will live in harmony with each other and the Earth
And then everywhere will be called Eden once again
Since college, most of my High Holiday times (also referred to as the Days of Awe…one of my favorite words, by the way) are spent in meditation, in nature and with kindred spirits, not confined in the edifice of a synagogue. It is where I feel most tapped in to the God of my understanding and where I can more readily engage in the deep spiritual work that really is my entire life.
I clean up any detritus from the previous year, doing ‘come cleans’ with folks with whom there may be either misunderstanding, residual gunk OR unsaid expressions of love and appreciation. It really does feel like a refreshing waterfall shower.
Regardless of your religious faith, I encourage you to engage in such a practice. L’shana Tova…for a good year!
http://youtu.be/lqeLjEBp9hg Sasson V’Simkhah by Rabbi Shefa Gold