By Janis Fontaine
The Judaic holiday Rosh Hashana celebrates the biblical birthday of the world, and it’s a holiday from which everyone could really benefit. The 10 days between Rosh Hashana, which begins Sept. 25, and Yom Kippur, which begins Oct. 4, carve out a period of candid self-reflection called the Days of Awe.
The High Holidays’ themes — forgiveness and repentance — are twofold: We are supposed to both ask for and give others forgiveness. It’s a time of honest evaluation of ourselves as spiritual people. It’s not about how successful we were at work in the last year, but how successful we were at life.
Rabbi David Steinhardt of B’nai Torah in Boca Raton says Yom Kippur builds an awareness of who we are in this world.
He wants everyone to leave despair and helplessness behind, and know that we have more strength and agency in the world than we realize.
Steinhardt has been the senior rabbi at B’nai Torah Congregation serving the Boca Raton community for more than 20 years.
B’nai Torah is the largest Conservative synagogue in Southeast Florida with over 1,300 membership families. He expects 75-80% attendance at services this year.
This is what the High Holidays mean to him in 2022:
“I am often asked: Is there a bigger purpose whereby the meaning of traditions and holidays can speak to our lives and our world?
“While traditions help create connections to the past and deepen religious feeling, I propose that our inherited traditions also require a language that speaks to the needs and challenges of today. As we stand before the Jewish High Holy Days, I’d like to present a possibility.
“The most profound message of the High Holidays reminds us that the world was created with one person. Rosh Hashana is called the birthday of the world. As it began with one, it is renewed with each one of us. We all matter. So, in a world that is so deeply divided, and where there is so much violence, anger and hostility, and intolerance for the ‘other,’ our tradition tells us to look at ourselves and see what we can do to create change for the better.”
Rosh Hashana is followed by 10 days of repentance and concludes with the holiest day, Yom Kippur.
“The central idea of teshuvah, which means repentance or return, is defined by a call to examine ourselves, recognize what we have done over the year, perhaps see the things we could have done differently, perhaps look at the hurts we caused and see where we can improve,” Steinhardt said. “During this process, we might ask ourselves, how can I be kinder, more patient, more forgiving, or more giving in this world?
“I acknowledge it is not always easy in a world that constantly presents to us tragedy, sadness, conflict, issues and events that make us feel overwhelmed and often helpless. But it is in these exact moments of personal reflection that we can have personal agency to fix some of the problems around us.
“At the end of the day, we can hardly change another, but we can bring about change when we look at ourselves and see what we can do better.
“I wish all a good, healthy and meaningful New Year! Shana Tova.”
Ideas for self-reflection
In a post for the 10 questions project at MyJewishLearning.com, Joey Soloway, a TV writer, producer and director whose credits include Six Feet Under and Grey’s Anatomy, included these ideas for self-reflection:
• What’s a significant experience that has affected you over the past year?
• Is there something that you wish you had done differently this past year? Or that you’re especially proud of?
• Describe an event in the world that has impacted you this year.
• Describe one thing you’d like to achieve by this time next year. Why is this important to you?
• Have you had any spiritual experiences this past year? This can include secular, artistic, cultural, and so on. • How would you like to improve yourself, your life, next year?
• Is there something (a person, a cause, an idea) that you want to investigate more fully next year?
• What is a fear that you have and how has it limited you? How do you plan on overcoming it this year?
Janis Fontaine writes about people of faith, their congregations, causes and community events. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.