(NB: Although this was written for 2020, much really hasn't changed in our world. It's worth sharing Rachel's reflection again, at this new "head of the year".
Collaborator: Rachel Dubin Gurwitz
Rachel and her husband Jonathan live in San Antonio, and are active in Jewish, music, and civic activities. Rachel is recently retired as librarian at Howard School in San Antonio. She presides every Friday evening at her family's Shabbat. (The Gurwitz family are life-long friends of the Incarnate Word Sisters. The writer of this blog has a particularly fond friendship with them; I am most grateful to Rachel for her reflection.)
I’ve heard many friends say that they wish this year with all its health concerns and social unrest would end. I see references on social media as we head into each month that make light of every new, unimaginable, natural phenomenon that may be headed our way. People wish that there could be a return to “normalcy” and a more peaceful day-to-day existence. Folks hope that 2021 will bring resolution to the challenges we currently face. These thoughts about the year ending and heading into the new year are particularly relevant this week as my family and Jews around the world prepare for Rosh Hashanah and the Jewish High Holy Days. Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year -- this will be year 5781. It is a time of new beginnings but also a time for deep reflection. The literal translation of Rosh Hashanah is “head of the year,” or first of the year. It marks the beginning of the Days of Awe, also known as the Days of Repentance. Awe and Repentance. I find it interesting that placing those two concepts together makes us focus both outward in awe of God’s creation as well as inward. We are called to examine our own hearts and minds and consider the work of repentance as we prepare to be judged on Yom Kippur. This year more than ever, we need to all look both directions – outside of ourselves and within. The customary greeting for Rosh Hashanah has us wishing each other a “sweet” or “good” – as opposed to happy – new year, and we eat foods like apples with honey to evoke that sense of sweetness. We make our challahs (bread) round, instead of braiding them, to represent the cycle of life and the calendar as one year closes and a new one begins. Round and round the years march on. There is comfort in that cycle. As I approach these days of awe, I find myself looking back but also trying to focus on looking ahead. Was the past year “sweet”? Surprisingly in some ways the answer is yes. I was fortunate to have my husband and both of my nearly grown children home as our jobs and schools went completely online. Being practically confined to our house reminded me of the joy of uncomplicated family time. The debate over mask wearing allowed me to focus on doing what was right for people around me and not only myself. My desire to occasionally escape the house got me out walking daily with my dog who is more than thrilled at this turn of events—but also serves the purpose of improving my own health. Social issues prompted me to reach out to friends I have not spoken to in ages as I tried to reconnect and better understand their lives. As I prepare to move forward I think, ultimately, it made me a better person. What can we do to ensure the sweetness of this year to come? As I pray for the strength to handle the future, I know I will draw on my past to help find that strength and I vow to make sure I taste the sweetness of every day. This is my hope for all of you as well. Shanah Tovah um'tukah- May you have a good and sweet new year.
(Rosh Hashanah begins this year in the evening of Monday, September 6 and ends in the evening of Wednesday, September 8.)