Happy New Year to my wonderful readers! I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the concept of New Year’s resolutions. I’ve never thought much of them because I have rarely seen them work! It always seemed strange to me that everyone at once would pick an arbitrary, if unified, day to suddenly become better people. I happened to mention this to my husband a few days ago, and he turned to me and said, “but you do it too! You just do it on a different arbitrary day – Rosh Hashanah.”
He was right! (Although I would not call Rosh Hashanah arbitrary!) I make New Year’s resolutions every Rosh Hashanah, but they are very different from the ones that I ponder (but usually don’t make) on the secular New Year. On the Jewish New Year, I resolve to be a better person, to turn away when in the presence of gossip and to avoid doing it myself, to be a better friend, daughter, sister, wife, Cantor. My Rosh Hashanah resolutions are mostly about how I relate to others.
Secular New Year’s resolutions always seem to be about self, whereas t’shuvah (return or repentance) is so often about our relationship with others. Most of the common New Year’s resolutions that turned up after a basic google search were related to a person’s relationship with themself alone– losing weight, getting more exercise, trying new experiences, stopping bad habits. It’s not a bad thing to focus attention on self-improvement, even if it only benefits you. Truthfully, the things that benefit you, improving your health, are bound to also reflect positively in your relationships with others.
Judaism has four New Year’s holidays spread throughout the year. This means that American Jews get five. Five opportunities to focus on different aspects of our lives that we can improve! The next New Year is Tu B’shvat (falling in the secular calendar on January 20th, 2011). Tu B’shvat is the New Year for Trees. Many Jews take this holiday as a time to focus on environmentalism. It would be a great time also to consider environmentally themed resolutions.
Oh so many ways to work on improving ourselves and our world. Well, it’s January, people, let’s get started!
Dear Cantor Neff: I read your story in the LoHud paper today with great interest. I am the Activities Director at Willow Towers a senior assisted living residence and subsidiary of United Hebrew Geriatric Center two doors away on Pelham Rd.in New Rochelle.
Our population is divided evenly between residents of Christian and Jewish faiths. Your trip sounds amazing…something that would be of tremendous interest to all of our residents. I would like to invite you to come with slides or computer images and tell them about your trip at your convenience. Would that be possible? I eagerly look forward to hearing from you. Happy New Year.
Joan Ryan 914 636-6565 x119