L’Shanah Tovah 5777. Happy New Year. The High Holy Days commence at sundown tonight (Sunday), beginning a period of reflection, remembrance, and renewal for Jews around the world.
I’ll get to what matters in a moment. First, though, there’s challah. No Jewish meal begins without bread, and a blessing in which we gives thank for bread. Challah means “loaf of bread,” but in modern times the term describes a braided egg bread, made round for the High Holy Days.
I have been sharing Jewish holidays with the same group of people for almost 55 years. We—my parents’ generation, truth be told—found one another wandering in the Southern Arizona desert, with everyone having escaped from New York or Havana. In the diaspora we have stayed together for decades. In olden times we shared holidays at one another’s homes. Somehow, someway, the Rosh Hashanah dinner evolved into a meal in the backroom at a local restaurant which features grilled mammals, including cows, pigs, and more exotic four-leggers. The restaurant also serves birds, fish, and small quantities of stuff that comes from the ground. There is liquor, plenty of conversation, and lots of shared memories. (I’m pretty sure no one has ordered a pork chop during our several years at this place.)
Oh, challah! We bring our own. Here are mine:
So about what matters. Yom Kippur follows Rosh Hashanah by nine days. The 10 days period often carries the appellation Days of Awe. We focus on a Book of Life around the High Holy Days. (For background and an appreciation for the religious underpinnings, read May You Be Inscribed in the Book of Life for 5774 by Philologos for The Forward, written three years ago.) A Jew like me who lacks a solid theological base knows from the annual statement: “On Rosh Hashanah it is written and on Yom Kippur it is sealed.” Until the following year. Rinse. Repeat.
So I reflect first. I’m so blessed. (For details, go to Gratitude!)
Then there’s remembering. While we are always starting anew, we must honor and remember our past, and those who brought us here and sustained us. Or, as the late Yogi Berra put it, in his own apt way: “Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours.”*
Finally, there is renewal. Yom Kippur involves atoning for our sins. More importantly, however, on that day we forgive others and ourselves. We let go. We move on. For schlepping around guilt, hurts, and lots of mishegoss gets in the way of living, big time.
To forgive matters greatly, for it clears out the mind’s cobwebs, dust, and other clutter. To simply forgive, however, is not enough. A central tenet of Judaism is tikkun olam, or repairing the Earth. From natural damage to broken infrastructure to broken communities to broken lives, no one want for work when it comes to making our world a better place. Luke 12:48—yes, I can quote from the New Testament, even on Erev Rosh Hashanah, when the quote fits—tells us: “Everyone to whom much was given, of him [and her] much will be required, and from him [and her] to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.” So, for me renewal means getting to work, repairing ourselves and this rock we inhabit.
My comments reflect a profound, and obvious, lack of deep theological knowledge, as well as non-traditional ways of talking about Jewish core values. That said, I treasure the next 10 days. The High Holy Days refresh me and energize me. Jewish or not, reflecting, remembering, and renewing are worthy endeavors.
*Here’s the Mexican Bird of Paradise we planted today in honor of my dear friends’ mom, who passed a year ago.