A New Year and a Chance to Be Better (Really)

7 years ago

One of my best friends has Stage 4 breast cancer. Someone I love joined the army. Someone else I love got married. My husband had a shock applied to his heart like somebody in the ER. Trees fell in a huge storm all over our neighborhood. We went to Turkey and to Greece and to San Francisco and to New York and I went to Las Vegas too. It's been quite a year. And, as has been true for five years, one different from those when I was younger.

Last Thursday and Friday, we celebrated the new Jewish New Year and began what are known as the Days of Awe, because between those days and Yom Kippur (this weekend), we ask God to inscribe us in the Book of Life for another year.

And so we seek forgiveness from those we may have hurt -- and must mean it. We seek forgiveness from God for transgressions large and small, those we know we've committed and those we don't even know we did -- and must mean that, too. Of course, since we're Jewish, we also eat -- big meals during Rosh Hashanah, another right before the fast of Yom Kippur and a break fast after. It's quite spectacular, actually.

It's also very different from the holidays of my childhood -- or even that of our kids. Like many Jews, we have moved from "cultural Judaism" to a more observant life. If you grew up in the 50's as a Reform Jew, you went to synagogue for a couple of hours on each holiday and maybe fasted on Yom Kippur -- maybe not. The service was almost all in English, with a choir and an organ. Mostly, we didn't know what we were praying about, were mad at missing school during midterm tests and never took it seriously. It was what I thought we'd always have and all that we passed on to our sons.

But about five years ago, my husband and I began a journey to a more observant life and came to understand that these days -- the Days of Awe -- have a deep meaning indeed. We pray that God will write us in the Book of Life for another year. "On Rosh Hashanah it is written, on Yom Kippur it is sealed." It is a chance to think about how we live -- and love. Of what kinds of people we really are, and how we treat those around us. We repent those sins we know we have committed and those we don't realize we've done. Here's what I wrote about it on my own blog a couple of years ago.

I wish you could have been with us on Yom Kippur. This holy day, which I had always experienced as solemn and sad, is, in our synagogue, a day of happiness. We are there because of the gift of repentance, we are participating in a service that is thousands of years old, the music is just extraordinary and the ritual moving and humbling. The young doctor who leads our service is profoundly spiritual and an amazing musician.

Friday night, we will have dinner with 8 other adults and five kids, walk to the synagogue for the solemn evening Kol Nidre service, and return the next morning for a day that is inspiring and beautiful and solemn and thrilling. We'll try to be honestly penitent and I will pray for my friend and my soldier and the bride and my husband and my kids and all those we love. The prayers will carry us and the music will lift us, and we will hope to leave better than we came and determined to support one another in our efforts to remain that way. It's a far cry from the "drive by Jew" I used to be and not yet where I'd like to be, but in some way I can't express, it is a wonderful moment in a life not yet finished seeking -- and growing. L'shana Tova.

Other perspectives:

Judy Balint's Jerusalem Diary describes life in that holy city as the holiday approaches.

Ima On (and Off) the Bima (she's a rabbi too) wrote last year about her pre-Yom Kippur trip to the mikvah (a ritual bath) and of leaving the water feeling clean and ready for the year to come.

BlogHer's Mata H wrote that same year about the holiday and what it means, and includes links to ten other bloggers and their sense of this holy day.

Cynthia Samuels, Managing Editor, Care2.com, Causes and Partner, Cobblestone Associates, LLP

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