A Sweet New Year

Another great week began here in Israel as I celebrated an important Jewish holiday with a friendly family from Be’er Sheva. On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, one of the teachers from my school invited me to join her and her family in a traditional Rosh Hashanah Seder to ring in the new year.

The moment I arrived, I felt the warmth and hospitality of this Israeli home in my bones. I was thrown into the madness, as little girls climbed on top of me wanting to hear about the latest on Ariana Grande and One Direction. Mothers, fathers, grandparents and teens all gathered for one of the most significant meals of the year and they made me feel a part of it all (with English translation to boot).

The “seder” (meaning order) consisted of prayers paired with different foods acting as delicious vessels of meaning. First, there was a pomegranate to symbolize our good deeds in the new year and the hope that they will be as plentiful as the fruit’s seeds. Then there was the popular tradition of dipping apples in honey, eaten to symbolize a “sweet” new year. Then a few oddities hit the table like the head of a fish, stewed Marigold, and dates, all of which represented some ideal wish for (Jewish) year 5775.

It was a completely new experience for me, but at the same time extremely familiar. The topics of conversation (using context clues to guess most of the time) landed on politics and weather and children’s laughter hung in the air as the mothers shuffled from course to course only eating after everyone else had been served. There was the familiar attempt at group singing towards the end of the night, but just like I remember at my house, participation lacked solid enthusiasm.

At the seder I realized something very important about myself. I feel most content and happy when I feel a sense of belonging. I don’t just mean the sense I felt with the family I was with at that moment. It’s much bigger than that. I had a thought that night that all around the world, different kinds of Jews – religious or non-religious, kosher or not – were participating in their version of the Jewish new year whether it’s a full blown seder or just biting into an apple schmeared with honey.

Rosh Hashanah is a celebration of the new year based on the Jewish calendar, but it’s also a chance for the Jewish people to look back on the past year and reflect. Here’s one of my favorite explanations by Jewish food blogger, Tori Avey: “During Rosh Hashanah, Jewish people ask God for forgiveness for the things we’ve done wrong during the past year. We also remind ourselves not to repeat these mistakes in the coming year. In this way, Rosh Hashanah is an opportunity to improve ourselves. It’s a holiday that helps us to become better people.”

That night I felt a sense of belonging to something so purely self-reflective and entirely communal at the same time. We’re called upon each year by an age old tradition to think about how we’ve treated our world, our community and the people we connect with every day. Even more interesting is the idea that self-improvement becomes more significant when the big man upstairs is involved – it’s not the easily broken “New Year’s Resolution” we know so well. God’s the last person you want to call you out on ill-made promises.

The day after Rosh Hashanah, I found myself at the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel. It was an impromptu trip, and in my opinion the best way to travel. After a day of play in the beautiful, scenic northland and a night sleeping under the stars, I woke up the next morning and stood at the shore of the Galilee to take in the beautiful sunrise before me.

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There is a tradition in Judaism called Tashlich which happens during Rosh Hashanah and the next 10 days following the holiday. I may not be a religious person, but this really hit home for me. Symbolically, Tashlich is the act of casting our sins into the water, leaving our old shortcomings behind us and starting the new year with a clean slate.

Maybe it was the scenery or the amazing weekend I’d had, but again, I felt a wave of belonging and a sincere urge to be a better version of me this year. An ancient tradition still relevant to a secular twenty-something in 2014…who would have thought?

So here it is, I’m going to challenge you. Make your Tashlich this year. What have you done in the past year you regret? What do you want to change about yourself? Who have you hurt or betrayed? Make your mental notes and then throw them out to the proverbial sea.

At the risk of sounding too preachy, I’ll stop there. Well, maybe just one more thought to start off the sweet new year.

I spent the last year of my life completely confused about who I was and who I wanted to be. I found myself no longer in a relationship where I could use the other person as a mirror, someone to gauge how I was doing at the whole “being a good person thing.” Without that mirror, well, it was fucking scary. I had to make my own judgments about who I was. I had to take a look at myself and accept me for me, flaws and all. It was really miserable, I must say. But my feet have landed on solid ground and I am truly excited to be a self-reflective person. Being aware and alert of your actions and how you affect your world is extremely important. It’s a process, and I haven’t mastered anything as of late but knowing where I’ve been and how I feel now feels pretty damn good. It’s a long road ahead, but taking stock every now and then makes the road a lot less bumpy in my opinion.

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Shanah Tovah!