Finding Faith: Religious leaders offer advice for a happy new year

By Janis Fontaine

The year 2020.


It rolls off our tongues, the symbol of perfect visual acuity. So, a year with that moniker should be a great year, right?


We asked clergy members how they feel about 2020 and for their best advice for starting the new year on the right foot:


Andy Hagen, pastor for Advent Life Ministries in Boca Raton, said he thought about the idea of the year 2020 and 20/20 vision a few years ago. “That it’s supposed to be perfect vision. I tried to imagine what 2020 would be like.” Hagen realized the futility of trying to predict the future, knowing God has his own ideas about that, and just kept moving forward.


Now he says, “The thing I’m loving as we enter 2020 is people are being more kind and more generous. Saturday I flew to the Bahamas with Bob Stark, a (retired) local businessman who is a pilot and owns his own plane. He wanted to help but didn’t know how, so he contacted me. I reached out to the congregation, and we flew 200 backpacks filled with toys donated by our church family to tiny Moore’s Island in Stark’s twin Cessna. No reindeer required.”


More and more, Hagen says he’s being asked to connect people who want to help with people who need help. “I’m a goodwill broker,” he said.


Rabbi Ruvi New is the spiritual leader and director of Chabad of East Boca and the editor of Inside Out magazine, which focuses on Jewish thought and philosophy. He says his congregation is excited about the new year because it’s also Chabad’s 20th anniversary and there’s a lot to celebrate.


“Now we’re the boutique Chabad,” New said. An upgraded space to handle the growing congregation and a new façade drawn from the eight entries to the sacred city of Jerusalem give Chabad “an opportunity to up our impact,” New says.
“There’s a significance to different decades; they should represent a paradigm shift, a time to see things in a new way. It’s a new chapter.”


Ask yourself, New says, if you are merely existing or are you living? Challenging yourself to grow is a sign of life. “The Hebrew term for year is shana but the word also means change. Ask ‘How am I different than I was last year?’ But don’t waste time or space worrying about things that will never happen or with your eyes focused on the rearview mirror. Only cars should have rearview mirrors. Be in the now.”


New says that every day you wake up is God’s saying, “I need you in the world.”


Jane Faysash of the Southern Palm Zen Group (www.floridazen.com) is a Buddhist pupil and teacher, and she facilitates the monthly Interfaith Café in Delray Beach. It’s a meeting of people of all faiths who come together to hear expert speakers and discuss spiritual issues.


Faysash says one path to a happy future begins with meditation. Most people spend their lives in hyper-drive and can’t imagine “doing nothing” for 30 minutes a day, so Faysash says, start small.


“Start by sitting quietly for five minutes every day. Pay attention to what arises.” If nothing else, Faysash says, “Meditation will help you know yourself better.


Faysash says one reason people fail to keep their New Year’s resolutions is they set goals too high. Mammoth goals lead to frustration and failure. Break them down into manageable pieces, like that adage about eating an elephant: “One bite at a time.”
“Do something, just one small thing, toward your goal every day,” Faysash says. “A new year is a chance to start over. Find a community of people with the same intention or goal for support.”


Josh Broide, the outreach rabbi at Boca Raton Synagogue and director of the Center for Jewish Engagement at the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County, also feels optimistic.


“I think 2020 will be a year where we can do better as a community. People are grateful and want to do great things, but anything we choose to do should start by taking a good look in the mirror.”


Broide is concerned that we’re not following the most basic life law: the Golden Rule. “We need more civility in our dealings with one another and we need to be better listeners. We need to stop retaliatory abuse — you hurt me, I’ll hurt you — because it spirals out of control. We need to be the bigger person.”


Broide is committed to spreading an enthusiastic message: “I can’t wait for 2020! I’m hoping it will bring good things.”


Rabbi Leibel Stolik of Chabad of South Palm Beach was philosophical: “Building on the concept that 2020 are the numbers that represent perfect visual acuity, if we train our emotional and spiritual vision to be more accepting, generous and empathetic, we are guaranteed a more peaceful and successful year. Recognizing God’s hand in the big and small parts of our lives allows us to shake off aggravation and despair.”


Wendy Tobias, associate pastor at St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church, says she’s approaching 2020 by saying yes. Yes to love, yes to God’s presence in her life, yes to community and yes to “creation care,” a worldwide ministry that educates, inspires and mobilizes Christians to care for God’s creation and be stewards of the planet by fighting pollution.


“The earth is a great gift and we should be caring for it,” Tobias said.


Say yes to the community by looking for the helpers, people who are lifting up others, and joining them. “The closer the connection between us, the closer we are to God. And the closer we are to God, the stronger our connection to each other,” Tobias said.
Say yes to kindness. “You’ve heard people ask, ‘Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?’ It takes a lot of courage to choose the kinder path.”


Tobias says if you look around, you’ll see people doing amazing things. It starts with your attitude.


“My mother forbade us from using the word ‘hate’ in our house. She said there was already enough hate in the world. Start the new year by removing the word ‘hate’ from your vocabulary and say yes to love.”

Janis Fontaine writes about people of faith, their congregations, causes and events. Contact her at janisfontaine@outlook.com.

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