Growing up in the south in a town with few Jewish families, it was kind of cool that I got to celebrate everyones’ religious holidays. Since all my friends were Christian (one other Jewish girl in my high school class), I readily celebrated Christmas and Easter – not as religious holidays, but as super occasions. Not only did I color Easter eggs, I went to church with my friends. Come winter, while there was no wreath on our door (Mother put her foot down), we put up a Christmas Tree, and Santa Claus came with presents, AND there was Passover with even more gifts. How great was that?!
On the other hand, the arrival of the Jewish High Holy Days were taken very very seriously. These were often shared with my mom’s family, surrounded by cousins and the small Jewish community at the tiny synagogue in McGehee, Arkansas, which my grandparents built in memory of their oldest son Herbert, who died in World War II (my namesake). Papa Sam would throw all the young cousins dirty looks as we sat in the back row giggling at the Hebrew, which sounded so silly to our ears. Once the lengthy services ended, boredom turned to fun as we’d chase one another and dive into what seemed tons of food, made so lovingly by my Grandma Molly for days before.
For the uninitiated, Rosh Hashanah follows the lunar calendar for the New Year, 5772, which starts at sunset on September 28th. This begins a 10 day period when we are to reflect on the past year and how we can be better in the year ahead, culminating on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement and the holiest day of our year.
As a fairly non-religious person, I tend to shrug a bit as the Jewish High Holy Days approach, and, then, each year, find that I can’t shake the need to actually focus and reflect. Whether I attend synagogue or not, the presence of my grandparents and parents (no longer here) is strongly with me and I do, indeed, consider with real seriousness what I can and should do to be a better mom, friend, sister, ad infinitum … It’s not so much a list of resolutions as a feeling that penetrates my soul, and I delve into the past year and the past ones before that.
How different the Jewish New Year is for me from the one we celebrate with the Gregorian calendar — that joyous occasion wisks us from December into January with a glass (or two) of champagne and some mistletoe if we’re lucky. For me, this has always been a time to look forward instead of backward – even though the resolutions written down (yes, I actually do) are sincere at that moment, the paper and the promise often get lost along the way.
Backwards. Forwards. How lucky to have two times marked by calendars to celebrate each year. And both offer wonderful – yet quite different — emotions with great promise.
A suggestion to all of you: Consider observing these two New Year events – whatever religion you may be. In all our rushing around and about, we sometimes lose ourselves. It’s nice to make the time to rediscover the core of who you are and remember where you came from.
Happy New Year this week … and here’s to happiness in the coming months ahead,