It’s a new year, a new day. Starting again, a new beginning, a second (or third) chance, an opportunity for a do-over. There are all these words with which we often approach the New Year, but now that it is here and we’ve had our fill of apples and honey and cake and chocolate (ok, that last one is probably only at my house), what do we really do with it? Do we truly start over and take this as a chance to be better, or do we simply go back to the way things were?
If I’m completely honest, that’s what I do most years. I talk a great game, but when push comes to shove, I pick life up where I left it. I don’t really change anything. Change can’t be forced, I tell myself, but maybe I am just lazy.
“The High Holidays are a time for honestly taking stock of our own lives and the world around us,” writes Rabbi Hannah Goldstein (Temple Sinai, Washington, D.C.). “We confront our own mortality, and make the brave decision to ‘choose life’ in the face of so many challenges.”
Rabbi Yosef Goldman (Shaare Torah, Gaithersburg, Maryland) adds: “We are all experiencing liminality at every level of community and society. In so many ways we are stuck in between. We are not who we were before the pandemic; we know that we will not be “going back to normal.” And yet it is not yet clear who we are becoming, what the contours are of the paradigms of our new reality, how we organize our sense of self personally and collectively.”
Taking stock of our own lives and finding out who we are becoming? That’s easier said than done. I’m not so sure any of us are really ready to ‘take stock.’ Where are we? Who are we? How has this pandemic altered us? I don’t know and I’m pretty sure you don’t either. It feels as if we need another 20 years or so before we can truly understand how we, how our communal life and our relationships have changed. So I am not even going to try to solve that particular puzzle right now.
As for the ‘new normal’ (I really despise that phrase) we are meant to discover, I’m equally stumped. Is it a matter of figuring out technology, room size, hybrid meetings, things like that? Or does it have more to do with how we fill our communal needs on a more personal level? Can I survive with one hug per month instead of ten? Can I feel connected over the phone as much as if we were sitting across from each other in a restaurant, or are our friendships eroding, bit by bit? How many hugs, dinner parties, get togethers, screaming-with-laughter-evenings have I taken for granted in the past?
Most importantly, how do we ‘start over’ without sinking into depression? It’s tempting to focus on what is missing, rather than what we can change and improve. And by the way, why do I only talk about what we need, what I need and what I miss, what I wish we could have back?
What about what the world needs from me, from us?
Yikes. Has there ever been a Rosh Hashana that was this difficult to process? As always, there are no easy answers. This year, specifically, there may be no answers at all. At least, not right away. That doesn’t mean all is lost—it is still the holiday season and we are still surrounded by reminders of what is expected of us. And somehow, finding a way to ‘start over’ is not really optional. How we do that, I have no clue. I do know one thing: we have to do it together. We have to stay connected, even when it’s a five-second wave from across the parking lot, rather than a two-hour dinner. Even if we can’t have those hugs, even if we can’t get on that plane. As long as we find a way to stay in touch, I think we can do this. Call a friend, send a message, drive by someone’s house, text someone you love them. Let’s all stay together, Let’s continue to love each other and worry about the rest later.