This reflection on Rosh Hashanah was written by Dorey Glenn, MD, MPH, assistant professor in the division of nephrology, and Bill Primack, MD, who retired from the division of nephrology in 2015. (Rosh Hashanah began September 18, 2020, and ended September 20, 2020)
Rosh Hashanah is one of the most important holidays in the Jewish calendar. It’s the Jewish New Year. Rosh Hashanah, which translates to “Head of the Year”, is a time of prayer, self-reflection, and repentance. The holiday begins the 10-day period, known as the “Days of Awe” or “High Holidays”, and is ushered in by Rosh Hashanah and culminates with Yom Kippur (the “Day of Atonement”). During this time, Jews traditionally review our actions over the past year, consider ways to improve ourselves and our communities, and reset or reaffirm our spiritual goals and commitments. The Jewish New Year is a time to begin introspection, a step in the cycle of continuous quality improvement, if you like.
Rosh HaShanah is widely observed by Jews throughout the world, often with prayer and reflection in a synagogue. The common greeting at this time is L’shanah tovah (“for a good year”). There also are several holiday rituals observed including sounding the shofar, eating a round challah, and tasting apples and honey. It is customary to dip a piece of challah (bread) or apple into honey at mealtime and recite the prayer, “May it be thy will that we be blessed with a good, sweet year.” As with most other Jewish festivals, Jews partake of a festive meal on the two days of Rosh Hashanah, but abstain from food and water on the Day of Atonement as the day is reserved for prayer and penitence.
“For me, Rosh Hashanah sparks memories of my paternal grandparents, and walking with them to synagogue along the bustling streets of Bergenline Avenue in North Bergen, New Jersey,” said Glenn. “Most Jews had since left the city for more suburban lifestyles, and the synagogue was typically filled to less than ten percent capacity with those families left living nearby and their relatives. While the effects of a dwindling Jewish community were poignantly felt in stark contrast to the large light-filled sanctuary, I was far more interested in being close to my grandparents to take much notice. Rosh Hashanah was for me a time to enjoy family life.”
WHEN WE BEGIN A NEW YEAR
When we begin a new year it is decided,
and when we actually repent it is determined:
Who shall be truly alive and who shall merely exist,
Who shall be happy and who miserable;
Who shall attain fulfillment of days,
and who shall not attain fulfillment of days;
Who shall be tormented by the fire of ambition,
and who shall be overcome by the waters of failure;
Who shall be pierced by the sharp sword of envy,
and who shall be torn by the wild beast of resentment;
Who shall hunger for companionship,
and who thirst for approval;
Who shall be scattered by the earthquake of social change,
and who shall be plagued by the pressures of conformity.
Who shall be strangled by insecurity
and who shall recoil into submission;
Who shall be content with their lot
and who shall wander in search of satisfaction;
Who shall be serene
and who shall be distraught;
Who shall be at ease
and who shall be afflicted with worry;
Who shall be poor in their own eyes
and who shall be rich in tranquility;
Who shall be brought low with futility
and who shall be exalted through achievement.
But teshuvah (repentence), tefillah (prayer), and tzedakah (righteous acts/charity)
Have the power to change the character of our lives.
Let us resolve then to turn from our accustomed ways
and to behave righteously so that we may begin a truly new year.
Stanley Rabinowitz (adapted) from Aigen, R Renew Our Days:A prayer –Cycle for the Days of Awe.