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Happy New Year.
I love the Jewish religion, and its amazing holidays and teachings about taking responsibility for our own lives. When I married my daughter’s father, he was not religious and didn’t celebrate the Jewish holidays, but I was so excited to bring Jewish traditions into our home for our daughter’s sake. It’s not that I’m a God girl; I am not. It’s that I think a historical foundation in religion gives you the right to decide what you believe in, so I studied many options, but that’s a post for another time.
Rosh Hashanah is my favorite of the Jewish holidays. According to tradition (not to be confused with mandated certainty), God judges all people during the 10 “Days of Awe” between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and decides whether or not we get to live or die in the coming year. Jewish law teaches that God writes the names of the righteous in the “book of life” and condemns the wicked to death on Rosh Hashanah. But there is a caveat: People who fall between the two categories have a until Yom Kippur to atone for their sins, and serve teshuvah — repentance. As a result, the days around the holidays are a time for prayer, good deeds, reflecting on past mistakes, and making amends with others.
So, once a year, I reflect on my actions and behaviors. One of the rituals I like is tashlich, when you cast off your sins and wrongdoings by going to the sea with some bread. Each piece of the bread you throw into the water reflects a wrong you wish to atone for, to make it right if you can.
I live in Maine, by the sea, and I set out yesterday with my dog, Bay, to cast off my wrongdoings. I took half a loaf of bread just to be on the safe side. God, it was beautiful. We sat by the sea, putting our thoughts together, Bay and I, and while she chose to eat her pieces of bread, I solemnly threw mine in the water, piece by piece. Bit by bit, I apologized and decided which people I would reach out to in order to make amends.
As I started to head back to the car, I stopped short. Wow, I’ve been doing this for years — years, I tell you — and never once have I cast a piece of bread into the water with regret for the way I have treated myself over the past year. I thought about the times I’ve ignored my body’s or my soul’s needs, and when I’ve been cruel to myself about my shortcomings. I turned my ass around and headed back to the water. I sat there for another hour and thought about the past year and what I’ve asked myself to do in the name of others, ignoring my own needs. I vowed that if I live another year, and I believe I have earned the right to do that, I will do better for the “her” that can only be great to others if she is great to herself.
Shana Tovah, fellow humans. That’s Jewish speak for “Have a great and sweet year.”
A Poem for Rosh Hashanah —Ariella Bernstein
As the sun sets over the remaining days of the Jewish calendar, here’s to a New Year and a life worth living.
And to laughing until your ribs hurt.
To helping those in need and not being too needy yourself.
To strong coffee, even stronger friends and being stronger yet still to show up for something bigger than you.
To finding the meaning in small acts of kindness which will cost you nothing, but make humanity more humane.
To the children and grandchildren to whom the future belongs but who teach us how to ride a scooter, play in the dirty, be buried in the sand, and dish ice cream for dinner because no one ever died from it.
To a life unscripted and to living with your arms wide open, even though it makes you vulnerable and unsteady. And to the friends who catch you and make you feel safe when you fall.
To your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health, for anything is possible with it.