September is not just the start of a new school year or great Netflix binge-watching—for me, it denotes the celebration of one of the holiest of occasions—the Jewish New Year or Rosh Hashanah.
For me, this holiday is met with mixed emotions. Both my parents passed away during the fall season, so I already feel anxious and am acutely aware of how hypersensitive I can be during this time of year. I harbour a profoundly charged sadness that, along with the impending darker and colder weather, throws me further into a solemn, introspective mood.
I don’t do well with change. It’s inevitable and a necessity, but I don’t have to like it.
Every year, this time of the year lands on my doorstep that much faster, which means I am getting older at an accelerated rate. Don’t get me wrong; I am very grateful to be able to complain about this.
At Rosh Hashanah, no matter how devout you are—which I am, truthfully, not so much—you share (at the bare minimum) the sentiment that the year ahead should be a prosperous one, in ways not involving material things, and that you should be around to enjoy it.
The Jewish New Year is all about great beginnings, but also about judgment. We are encouraged to set aside this time to ponder the year that passed; to examine the choices we made, good and bad, and to question who we are and who we want to be. And some would say, most importantly, this is a time of year at which we seek forgiveness from others we may have wronged, as well as from ourselves.
This is a request I find most difficult, for I harbour all sorts of examples of how I would have done something differently or said something less cutting. I find it easier to forgive others over myself. But I am constantly a work in progress. If I could, I would wear a sandwich board sign indicating ‘Men at Work,’ just to let people know I’m constantly working on myself.
It’s not easy to look at ourselves in the mirror and account for our misdeeds or slights, whatever they may be. But shouldn’t this be a mandatory exercise for all of us? We all could benefit from a 10-day crash diet of deep meditation, repentance and genuine soul-searching.
There are 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and the next of the highest of holidays, Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), when we are propelled into an Oprah-like frenzy full of ‘Aha!’ moments and rituals that include, but are not limited to, being reflective about questionable actions we might have performed and people we might have hurt. We were given this purposeful time to think about how we can improve and change, and to put those changes into practice.
A sweet year ahead
It’s like a Dr. Phil marathon all rolled into one: getting real and truthful with our emotions, fears and aspirations, and then celebrating with family and friends over some slow-cooked brisket and carbs in the form of a round bread called challah.
Much like a touted Taylor Swift video, our holiday is also sprinkled with all sorts of hidden and symbolic meanings, and for us, it takes on the form of food and acid reflux—especially with fruit.
We use honey and apples to symbolize a sweet and pleasing year ahead, along with a decorative plate of pomegranates with their ample seeds and numerous health benefits. Known as the ‘divine fruit’ because it is so often mentioned in theological books, the pomegranate symbolizes that the year ahead should also be amassed with beneficial ingredients like health, joy and happiness.
We use the soft round challah bread to remind us about the whole syrupy Lion King theme—that life is a never-ending circle.
I will sometimes get asked what the customary greeting for this time of year is, and I explain that a simple ‘Happy New Year’ is acceptable, along with ‘L’Shanah tovah,’ signifying ‘may it be a good and sweet new year.’
In these disturbing and destructive times, we could all benefit from securing a silent prayer that the coming year is one of tranquility and sweetness.