Truths You Can Use

Truths You Can Use

What to say to your Jewish Friends on the Holidays

While speaking at a church recently, I received an urgent question: “Is it okay for me to wish my Jewish friends ‘A Happy New Year’ on Rosh Hashanah?

rosh-hashanah-shofar2

“Absolutely,” I said. The questioner then asked what was appropriate to say on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, when many Jews do not eat or drink and spend most of the day in synagogue.

I thought for a minute. My answer was a bit disappointing. About the closest we get to a customary greeting in synagogue is “Have an easy fast.”

As I thought more about it, however, I realized we have a few other possibilities:

Rosh Hashanah—The Jewish New Year

Hag Samaech, which means “A Happy Holiday.” This greeting works on most holidays. The word samaech means “happy,” but it has the connotation of a shared communal happiness. A happy holiday is one we share with our friends, family and community.

L’Shanah Tova Tikatevu, which means “May you be inscribed for a good year.” According to Jewish tradition, God has a big book with all of our names in it. It’s called the Book of Life. On Rosh Hashanah we pray God inscribes our names on the good side of the book, giving us a year of joy, health and prosperity.

Gut Yontif, which means “May this be a good holiday.” Gut Yontifis a Yiddish phrase. Yiddish was the language of many Jews who lived in Central and Eastern Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries—think Fiddler on the Roof. Many older Jews will use this greeting throughout the holiday.

Yom Kippur—The Day of Atonement

Tzom Kol, which means “An Easy Fast.” Fasting is not meant to make us suffer. It is meant to cleanse our bodies and spirit and help us focus on the spiritual meaning of the holiday. Thus, wishing someone an easy fast is a way of acknowledging they are fasting while expressing hope that the holiday is meaningful not painful.

Gmar Chatimah Tova, which means “May you be sealed for a good year.” This greeting brings us back to the metaphor of the Book of Life. As we conclude the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and God prepares to close the book with our fates sealed in them, we pray that each of us ends up on the right side of the ledger.

When in doubt on either of these holidays, it is always appropriate to say “Happy New Year.” What better wish can we give to one another than that we enjoy a year of health, happiness and peace.

Click here to get a free 1-page guide to all the Jewish Holidays!

A Prayer for Chelsea Clinton’s New Daughter

When Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinksy married, I wrote about the religious choices they would have to make.

Chelseas Wedding

Those choices come into sharper focus now that they are the parents of a beautiful daughter, Charlotte. Those choices are not clear-cut or absolute.

Having worked with hundreds of interfaith couples, I can say for certain that the only right choice is the one that is right for you.

To claim children will be “psychologically confused” with two religious traditions or “have to choose between mom and dad” if they are exposed to two religions has no evidence to support it.

What we do know, however, is that having no faith or religious practice in the home leaves children bereft of the richness and wisdom of our faith traditions.

With shared hopes and dreams in mind, I offer this prayer for Charlotte and her parents.

God of all people,
We stand in awe before mystery of life.
Bless Charlotte and her parents with wisdom and joy,
mindful of the gifts and teachings You bestow on us
May she grow to fullness of body and mind,
Becoming a blessing to her family and all who know and love her.

May she learn to laugh but never forget how to cry
May she reach into the future,
But never lose touch with the past.
May her eyes be filled with the light of your teachings
Sharing and living your word every day.

We believe our lives our lives are immersed in mystery,
And that we belong to one another.
We believe that Your Presence is with us
as we gather to celebrate new life and hope.
Aware of mystery and wonder, caught in friendship and laughter,
we become speechless before the joy in our hearts as we celebrate the sacredness of life.

Amen

Get More Interfaith Prayers and Blessings Here

Do You Have Any Words of Wisdom or Blessing for Chelsea and Marc? Leave them in the Comments Below

How To Make Peace With Your Regrets

This is the text of the sermon I delivered on the morning of the Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. You can Click here to get the MP3 audio recording of  my delivering the sermon

butterfly

The most popular musical in the country when I was in college was Rent. Perhaps you saw it. It was not as edgy as, say, the Book of Mormon, but it had its moments.

One of its most popular songs was called “Another Day.” It is a paean to the idea of carpe diem, seize the day. You know the idea. Today is the only day we have. Make the most of it.

Such advice usually comes along with the encouragement to live without any regrets. One verse in the song says,

There’s only us
There’s only this
Forget regret
Or life is yours to miss

“Forget regret?” Is that really possible? Can we really live—make choices, form relationships, do important work—and have no regrets? To explore this question, let us turn to the biblical story we just read. Continue Reading This Post »

Hearing God’s Alarm Clock: What You Need to Know about Rosh Hashanah

shofar (1)

On Wednesday night and Thursday, Jews around the world will celebrate the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, which literally means “Head of the Year.”

What distinguishes Rosh Hashanah from every other holiday is the sounding of ancient ram’s horn, known as a shofar. It makes a scratchy, plaintive primitive sound. To hear it is the primary purpose of this day.

Even people can’t make it to synagogue try to hear the sound of the shofar. Rabbis have been known to visit hospitals and sound the shofar in patients’ rooms.

Is the Alarm Clock Loud Enough? 

Why? What’s so important about the shofar? Why must we hear it? The most insightful answer I’ve heard was given by Rabbi Harold Kushner. While the words of this prayerbook are addressed to God, he noted, the sounds of the Shofar are addressed to us.

“It’s a wake up call, an alarm clock; as if God were saying to us, ‘Don’t just plead with me for a year of life. I’m giving you life; what are you doing with it?’” 

In other words, the shofar is an alarm clock for our lives. It pierces through our routines and habits. It awakens us from the slumber of everyday living. It challenges us to think, to question, to wake up! What are we doing with the challenges and opportunities life puts before us? What meanings are we making out of the experiences we face?

Answering the questions God is asking

Yet, the shofar does not just present these questions. It helps us answer them. The most frequent sound—known in Hebrew as tekiah—summons us to human connection and community. The Torah itself tells us that the original function of the tekiah sound was to assemble the people.

Summer camps often have a bell that rings when it’s time to gather for a meal or ceremony. The tekiah sound does the same thing: it commands us to gather, to come together, so that we can live more fully.

We need that reminder. In a society that makes us easy to be alone–to entertain ourselves on the computer or with our iPhones–we can forget the richness that comes with living with and for others. Life gains meaning when we share it. Martin Buber, the great theologian of the twentieth century, made this message his life’s work.

When Buber was asked where God was found, he did not say in heaven. He did not even say God is everywhere. He said “God lives in relationships.” May your new year be fulfilled with new and deepening relationships–with God and with one another.

Learn More About Fiddler on the Roof with Rabbi’s Free E-Book

Previous Posts

What to say to your Jewish Friends on the Holidays
While speaking at a church recently, I received an urgent question: “Is it okay for me to wish my Jewish friends ‘A Happy New Year’ on Rosh Hashanah? “Absolutely,” I said. The questioner then asked what was appropriate to say on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, when many Jews

posted 5:47:52pm Sep. 29, 2014 | read full post »

A Prayer for Chelsea Clinton's New Daughter
When Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinksy married, I wrote about the religious choices they would have to make. Those choices come into sharper focus now that they are the parents of a beautiful daughter, Charlotte. Those choices are not clear-cut or absolute. Having worked with hundreds of int

posted 4:02:02pm Sep. 27, 2014 | read full post »

How To Make Peace With Your Regrets
This is the text of the sermon I delivered on the morning of the Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. You can Click here to get the MP3 audio recording of  my delivering the sermon The most popular musical in the country when I was in college was Rent. Perhaps you saw it. It was not as edgy as

posted 8:32:03am Sep. 26, 2014 | read full post »

Hearing God's Alarm Clock: What You Need to Know about Rosh Hashanah
On Wednesday night and Thursday, Jews around the world will celebrate the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, which literally means "Head of the Year." What distinguishes Rosh Hashanah from every other holiday is the sounding of ancient ram’s horn, known as a shofar. It makes a scratchy, plaintive primi

posted 7:58:49am Sep. 23, 2014 | read full post »

Why We Still Love Fiddler on the Roof After 50 Years
As I child I could not sit through movies or meals. Sitting through a musical was out of the question. Yet, when I was seven, my parents decided to take me to see Fiddler on the Roof. Looking back now as parent of a seven-year-old, I would not have been so bold. Since that first experienc

posted 6:59:14pm Sep. 16, 2014 | read full post »


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