Here’s the thing about Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and the Days of Awe – it flies under the radar for the majority of non-Jews. Hallmark does not put this one in the spotlight. Offices usually don’t close, and only some schools do. Unless people are curious about it, and doing temple drive-bys wondering why the parking lots are full on a weekday this year, it goes unnoticed. In fact, I am often asked what this holiday even represents, even though it’s the most significant Jewish holiday.
I truly appreciate that this is not an “in your face” type of holiday, with gifts or party hats and noisemakers. There’s no champagne being poured, no glitter balls being dropped, no singing of “auld lang syne.”
Instead, we listen to the sounding of the shofar – a ram’s horn – which requires not only skill but a sturdy set of lungs to coax out the beautifully unusual sound that the shofar can make. We happily eat apples and honey to represent a sweet new year. Mostly, we reflect – on what has taken place, how much farther we have come, and what we intend to do moving forward.
And the weather does tend to be quite lovely. I remember as a kid, growing up Catholic in a fairly mixed town, my parents always commented about how beautiful the weather always was on the Jewish holidays.
It’s a pretty serious holiday, deep with gratitude that you have landed on Rosh Hashanah once again, marking another year’s existence in this realm. But next week on Yom Kippur we address the chance that we may not be as blessed, that not everyone makes it into the book of life for one more year. And just because we do, there’s no promise of a year of goodness and blessing. There could be sickness, tragedy or some other plight that we do not wish for anyone.
Some think the Days of Awe are done backwards. We start with celebrating the new year, relieved that we were blessed with not only another year, but a good one, if that was the case. Then we end the 10 day holiday seeking forgiveness for our sins by fasting for a day on Yom Kippur. But we also spend that last day considering the possibility of not getting another chance, or getting one that is laden with strife. After the ten Days of Awe, we head back into the mainstream of our every day lives with some stuff to think about.
So it poses a few questions for us:
If you are signing up for another year and asking to continue on with this life, are you prepared to handle what life has waiting for you?
What did you do in this past year that has made you a candidate to receive another?
Most importantly, what will you do with the gift of this coming year to make it fuller and better than the last?
I think these are good questions for anyone, don’t you?