What Does One Do With Two New Year Opportunities?
On the one hand we have Rosh Hashanah, the new year on the Jewish/Hebrew calendar, a time when we gather with family and friends and our synagogue communities. And yet we also live in an American society that acknowledges and celebrates the end of the year as the calendar turns from December to January. Do we ignore December 31st? Do we celebrate twice?
Rabbi Brad Hirschfield writes:
For some Jews, the idea of celebrating New Year's on December 31 makes them feel uncomfortable. They see the holiday as part of secular tradition and therefore not "Jewish." Some choose not to participate because they see it as a betrayal of Jewish tradition. Why is commemorating an American custom viewed so suspiciously? Are we afraid that it will somehow make Jewish traditions seem less compelling, or are we so obsessed with our own uniqueness that we fail to see our connection to the wider world? (1)
Rabbi Hirschfield asks his readers if there is a way to mark the secular new year in a Jewish way and argues that we ought to challenge ourselves to infuse Jewish elements into the December new year to make it more meaningful.
While this is certainly a fine idea, my take on the two new years' takes us in another direction. I want to suggest that Rosh Hashanah and the secular new year are two very different holidays, each with its own customs, foods, and meaning-making rituals. Rosh Hashanah is a time for deep introspection into our souls; it is an accounting for our deeds and actions of the previous year and includes deliberate intentions to grow and change moving forward. This work is done alone, in face to face interactions with others, and in community with our temple family. The secular new year is all about "resolutions," promises to oneself for a fresh new year. Many find such promises to be less spiritual and theologically dense.
Rabbi Mark Wildes holds this perspective as well and write that while "Rosh Hashana is a time when we make our spiritual resolutions for the Jewish new year, the secular New Year can be a time when we resolve to do better in a more physical sense: better attendance at the gym, more punctual to meetings at work." (2)
What a gift it is to have two opportunities for self-reflection and celebration! Each date has its own purpose and history yet we can take comfort in knowing that as Jews we proudly inhabit both the Jewish and secular/American spheres. With my very best wishes for a happy new year and a wonderful 2017 to one and all...
MORE ABOUT THE NEW YEAR:
- In 1942, American folk singer Woody Guthrie penned his famous New Year's "Rulin's" in his journal. Click here to read the full transcript of this interesting list (and maybe compare it to yours!)
- Read New Year's messages in Text Message style, in 140 characters or fewer!
WE WANT TO MAKE SURE YOU KNEW....
Some of you may know that Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) is the academic center of our Reform Movement, and the seminary at which Rabbi Brown, Cantor Becker, Rabbi Glickman, and Rabbi Klein all trained. HUC-JIR has campuses in Jerusalem, New York, Los Angeles, and Cincinnati. We are very sad to report that HUC-JIR in Cincinnati was just vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti - a terrible and sad reminder (that hits particularly close to home for our clergy team) that hate is still alive and well in our country. To learn more about the Cincinnati incident, click here and to learn more about responding to anti-Semitism more generally (and locally), click here.