Resolving to improve ourselves is an accepted part of all society, regardless of religion or culture.
But, “It is not difficult to notice the differences between the Jewish Rosh Hashanah and January 1”, explains Rabbi Elianna Yolkut in an article titled The new year’s resolution is not taboo for a Jew. “In the secular world the transition from one year to the next is often marked with parades and fireworks, with fancy menus at expensive restaurants and an abundance of alcohol. Doesn’t sound much like Rosh Hashanah does it? But there is one similarity, which is often ignored: The New Year’s resolution.”
What started as a Babylonian tradition of celebrating the spring harvest, involving a reaffirmation of their covenant with the gods and a pledge to the existing king or the crowning of a new one, has morphed into a time when people of faith also reaffirm their connection to G-d and make resolutions around realigning their moral compasses. Modern day observant Christians attend church services where congregants sing, pray, reflect on the year. Muslims also focus on how they can improve their religious practices in the service of Allah. And at Rosh Hashana, Jews look to repair and refocus their commitment to Hashem.
Rabbi Yolkut continues “We, as Jews, are a people of resolutions, only we call the process cheshbon hanefesh, an account of our souls. The process is much like creating a personal budget only instead of financial matters it operates strictly in spiritual terms. When doing cheshbon hanefesh, we want to ask questions like, “Am I living up to the godliness and goodness inside of me?” “Am I maximising my investment in those I love and care for?” “Have I balanced my accounts with G-d?” You get the picture.”
So in the spirit of resolutions and cheshbon hanefesh and doing some personal accounting in the new year, the CJC brings you ‘A new year to…’ where we asked people to finish that sentence with something meaningful for them. We gave very little direction to the writers, hoping for them to really own the theme and the responses we got were varied. Some spiritual, some humerous and all inspirational.
So while you distil and reflect on what makes Rosh Hashana special for you, enjoy reading the resolutions and accountings of our contributors for this issue.
Twice a year at Pesach and Rosh Hashana we reach out to the community to contribute unique voices to our Yom Tov themes. As I write in my column this month, I don’t know everyone in our community, and can only ask people I’m already connected to. So in the spirit of lengthening the golden threads that bind us all, please consider putting your name forward for the next selection. Your contributions are a tribute to the richness of our community and only strengthen the bond that holds us all together in our beautiful Cape Town.
A new year to … Read more — Tali Feinberg
Reading has always been a big part of my life, but when my twins were born it definitely fell to the wayside.
Now that the boys are a bit older, I have tried to start reading again. But because I have so little time, I often feel overwhelmed by choice, especially using a Kindle. How do I choose the ‘right’ book? It can be almost paralyzing to decide, so I often don’t land up choosing anything at all!
Lately, I have pushed myself to just choose something, and have really enjoyed a few gems. I think we often feel pressured to read classics, or serious books, and then we don’t read at all. Rather, just read what makes you happy! And just choose something, even if you’re unsure about it.
We are so lucky to have the incredible Jacob Gitlin Library as a resource for all in the community, as well as great public libraries in our neighborhoods. Kindles are an investment but the reduced price books they offer are hard to beat. So there really is no excuse not to read, with so many options at our fingertips!
In the new year, I challenge myself and you to read a new book once a month. My favourite Israeli writer, Amos Oz, says that he writes to truly understand ‘the other’, and I think it is the same with reading. It takes us to another place and into the world of another person, and it often reflects back to us what we have been searching for. Or in the words of Franz Kafka: ‘A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us’.
A new year to … Dig deep and reflect — Amanda Zar
Rosh Hashanah commemorates the creation of the world and marks the beginning of the Days of Awe, a 10-day period of introspection and repentance that culminates in the Yom Kippur holiday, also known as the Day of Atonement.
For the past 21 years (most of my adult life) Rosh Hashanah has always coincided with the Yatzeit of my late mother. This in itself provides a time for deep reflection and an opportunity to remember and to draw strength from her legacy.
The Talmud tells us that three different books are opened on Rosh Hashanah: The Book of Life – for those judged to be completely righteous, the Book of Death – for those judged to be completely wicked, and the Middle Book for all who are judged to be in between.
For me personally I see it as an opportunity to start afresh a time in our calendar that provides each one of us with the opportunity to dig deep, and really look at ourselves, our behaviour, our actions and the choices we have made. For me this is a remarkable time to learn and grow that I believe if used correctly provides endless possibilities of growth, reflection and self-development.
My Rosh Hashanah blessing for myself, my family and friends is for a year complete with Hashem’s greatest blessings, good health, inner peace, success in all we strive to achieve, cherished memories, family filled simchas and a year filled to the brim with the strength to speak and live one’s truth and honouring who each of us are as individuals in the world that we live in today!
Shanah Tovah, and may it be a sweet good year!
A new year to … Be kind to yourself and others — Steve Sherman
When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, I often begin with the promise of improved health; weight loss, fitness, more sleep, veganism, fewer carbs, more exercise, less sugar… the list goes on.
I then move from health to wealth: I am going to pay off the bond sooner, gather all money that is outstanding, invest and save more AND make smarter business decisions. Finally, I look inwards and make promises about taking care of myself, fewer hours on social media, being nicer towards others, putting family first and starting fewer farribles.
In truth, I’ll visit the gym once and cut out carbs for 24 hours. But then, my good intentions are put on hold. There is a Shabbat dinner at the Cohens (you know the one that wrote all the cookbooks) and my progress is dealt a lethal blow. A quick pep-talk and I am back on track until, who is celebrating their golden anniversary and sponsoring the Brocha the next morning? Oy vey. I am in a downward spiral.
How can I salvage any morsel of progress? On Monday morning I proudly and assertively phone the bank about reducing my monthly service fees. I am caller 239 in the queue and they assure me that I should continue to hold as they value my business. So after an hour on hold, I jump into the car and go to the bank hoping this may be quicker. I walk into the bank and stand in line for two hours. It is becoming painfully obvious that I’m sinking deeper! Quick there must be one goal that I can attain in the new year! I had been contemplating a hiatus from Facebook for a whole day (yes this would be an incredible display of personal sacrifice and will power) but I need to share my despair and my awful day with 827 people I call friends. It suddenly dawns upon me that I am not only underachieving in the resolutions department but I am actually moving in reverse! These are what I call reversolutions.
How could I possibly turn things around? It is said that I should count my blessings and realise that there are people who are far worse off than I. With a quick glance through social media, it would appear that none of my friends are having these issues. They are smiling in every photo, they are travelling to exotic places, they are eating at all the hotspots, they are attending all the best parties, both husband and wife look tanned and 20 years younger — they are the poster people for the ideal life. And then the Facebook façade begins to crumble. It turns out that our happiest friends are in the middle of a bitter divorce. Close friends are in financial ruin. A best friend has a life threatening illness. A mate confided in me how nice it would have been on his trip overseas if he had not taken the kids with him…Wow… his holiday photos with the kids were the kind that you would find on travel brochures.
So here is my advice: With the New Year coming up, stop being so hard on yourself! Stop comparing your life to others because behind the Instagram and Facebook photos, can lie a very different reality. Goals can start at any time of the year but they require effort, not excuses. Just be yourself and be nice to other people. Shanah Tovah!
A new year to … Find your frequency — Rabbi Shmuel Ozhekh
The Shofar in its original state is a weapon of war.
An animal uses its horn to defend itself from predators or to demonstrate its strength over another animals or creature. Life can often feel like one is at war, feeling the need to prove their existence to the rest of the world, ascertain one’s position in society, and fend off anyone that comes to threaten it.
In thinking about the year ahead a person may consider how they can further differentiate themselves from others, stand out, be stronger, bigger, flashier, better.
The Torah teaches us that one must take this “divergent, warring mentality” and flip it around, realise that life is not about being bigger and better, and that the stress, anxiety and agitation that such an outlook on life may bring, is neither healthy or sustainable. What steps does one need to take in order to tap into this state of serenity?
The Torah teaches us that two frequencies exist in the world. A frequency of the material, physical world, and a frequency of the spiritual and inner world.
When one defines themselves by a material frequency, they are immediately confounded by separation and differentiation. Matter is essentially separate.
When a person tunes into a spiritual frequency, they tap into a deeper part of self, which is not restricted or defined by what makes it different from its surroundings, in essence, the soul is a part of Hashem, and thus a ubiquitous entity.
We blow three distinct sounds from the shofar. The first, the Tekiah, a clear, distinct sound, that represents the inner, spiritual self, a place of tranquillity and clarity, of unity and love. The second, the Shevarim, a broken, cry-like sound, that represents the emotion of feeling reunited.
Joseph broke into tears when reunited with his father, a feeling of coming back to one’s father, this is the same emotional spiritual catharsis a person should experience on Rosh Hashana, when they reunite with their deeper selves.
The final sound, the Teruah, seven short alarm-like sounds, that represent an enlightened, awoken state of existence. A resolve to establish the soul and one’s connection to Hashem as their primary state of being.
When a person feels unified internally, their external self follows, we culminate this process, by visiting a body of water by Tashlich, which uniquely resembles a homogenous, unified body of matter, something which resembles a newly found state of existence, one of harmony and connection between what is generally separate.
Once a person goes through this process of self-discovery and reunification, the Raash Hashana (the noise of the year) transforms into, the Rosh Hashana, (the head of the year), a person can access a more serene state of existence, where a divergent warring mentality represented by the horn of an animal is flipped around and transformed into a musical instrument.
A new year to … Ask yourself ‘why?’— Jacques Weber
5778 has been a year of immense growth for me, both in my personal and professional life. I remember how I felt this time last year… I was anxious about my future in the property world as it was completely new territory for me. I was also only half way through my life transformation journey.
Fast forward 365 days, and I am delighted to say that I have achieved everything I set out to achieve this year. I have had many curve balls thrown at me, but I did not let them de-rail me. Instead, I learned valuable lessons from them and they have shaped me into who I am today.
However, at this time of year, we acknowledge that we are all imperfect, that we can improve our ways and that we must do better with the life we have been given. This is a period for reflection. The High Holy days permit us to acknowledge our fears and failings but, at the same time, offers each one of us the possibility of renewal.
If we were asked to predict the outcome of a year at the beginning, we would likely fall short of approximating any of it accurately. This year, no different from those before it, had its predictable elements that were anticipated when the year began last Rosh Hashanah: the resignation of Zuma; the appointment of new president, the constant shenanigans in the political world and many other such events.
The same can be applied to life’s journeys. At some stage of our lives, we have all been culprits of setting unachievable huge goals. This can often lead to failure. Instead we should set short-term achievable goals. These are goals that don’t overwhelm you and are easily achieved. Big journeys begin with small steps.
However, just as important is ‘why’. Ask yourself daily why you are doing something? Having a purpose and having an answer to that question will go a long way. I can personally say I have tried and tested this method and it works! It is far easier to achieve your goals when you make them realistic and achievable.
We know that the human mind is rewarded on achievement and once you achieve your first set of goals it will automatically enable you to push onto the next one.
We are all worthy of our dreams. If you can dream it and believe it, you can achieve it! Don’t ever let anyone ever tell you that you are not able to do something. It is about commitment, it is about dedication and it is about passion.
So as I look forward to 5779, I am so excited and hopeful of what the year ahead holds for me. I will be setting new personal goals — believing that I can do anything that I put my mind to. I am in control of my own destiny. The future looks bright.
In the year ahead, continue to be strong but also to strengthen one another. Let’s work together to make ‘a sweet new year’ not only a greeting, but a reality for ourselves and the world we share.
I extend to you all my very best wishes for a happy and fulfilling new year. Shana Tova!
A new year to … Learn and live consciously — Ariella Goldman
I would like to take responsibility for my happiness. To own that responsibility, whether it’s to become a better Jew, or simply having better commitments. To stop pushing off deadlines or giving the ‘dirty’ work to someone else. To do it now! (If not now, when?) I want to rock ‘n roll into this new year and start doing services for myself and others.
I want to be more aware and conscious.
I want to learn after the first time of something not working for me, like dealing with the chaos of kids in the morning alone and instead of being a martyr acknowledge I need an extra pair of hands to start the day!
I want to be a more mindful human being, conscious and aware of what’s happening within me from the moment I open my eyes in the morning till bedtime. Thanking the creator for returning my soul, these few words take me just seconds to recite but the acknowledgment of today as a gift sets me on the right footing.
I want to become aware of what drives me, what motivates me, what puts a smile on my face.
Fuel this feeling, nurture it, act on it!
To a new year of being grateful for the small things, for the big things, for everything.
To a new year of putting others before myself even if it’s hard at times and to a new year of not being a doormat.
To a new year of fueling my soul, my spirit, my neshoma. With Torah, with Tzedakah.
Before I dance into this new year, I reflect on the past.
What happened, what did not.
I acknowledge my flaws and take steps to refine and to grow. Here’s to a year of more learning. About myself and others.
I want to spend time contemplating G‑d’s absolute oneness, how He is found everywhere and constantly recreating me.
No matter where I am I want to allow myself to feel infinitely close to G‑d. I want to think about the fact that I am actually thinking these thoughts, my brain is acting as a humble abode to G‑d, and my soul is fulfilling the very purpose for which it was created — to reveal G‑d’s oneness here in this world.
What greater joy can there be than a deep sense of fulfillment that you are doing what you were created to do?
I want to be mindful of how crucial it is for my children to be imbued with a sense of mission and taught the secret to lasting joy.
Here’s to a year of accomplishing and implementing.
Even just one of the above.
A new year to … Reduce suffering for all sentient beings — By Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz
Besides the ostentatious political troubles happening all over the world, there are more dynamic and underserved causes that need our attention.
Foremost in my mind is the broken culture that promotes the prolonged suffering and mistreatment of innocent creatures. From coast to coast, from America to Europe to South Africa, tasteless advertisements for the latest innovations in fast-food meat blaze across the land. Their ubiquity is heartbreaking. These seemingly innocent adverts present to us a genuine juxtaposition: that for however lovingly portrayed that food is to the consumer, hidden from public view is the dark truth of pain and suffering that created the moment. In this public space, we celebrate the remorseless cycle of pain for profit.
How do we deepen our spiritual roots to make our commitments more meaningful and more sustainable? For a growing number of Jews and other people around the world (including myself), developing veganism as a spiritual practice will not only benefit us personally, but will also strengthen us to make a greater difference in the world. If you’re like me, no doubt this past year has been filled with opportunities and challenges; it’s in the latter where we typically achieve the most growth. As a meta-observation, this auspicious time of year also allows us to take stock of what is happening in our culture and that which we have participated in. Have we been passive observers or active participants? And with Rosh Hashanah on the horizon, we are afforded the wonderful and unique opportunity to reflect on the year that has passed and how we’ve grown in our spiritual capacities.
Indeed, the mass suffering of animals in factory farming is one of the greatest ills of our time. And when we look closer at our own Jewish community, an ethos persists that meat consumption is not only a religious fulfillment but a cultural necessity. Often, it is looked down upon to avoid meat consumption as a “holier than thou” attitude. Indeed, as religious Jews have become more politically reactionary in recent years, this ideological outlook thwarts larger efforts for meat reduction in the broader community. Some seem to think that going beyond the norm of meat at every occasion is a violation of the institutions of Judaism itself.
While it is difficult, certainly, to understand another’s trauma and impossible to grasp the extent of another’s suffering, taking the time to attempt to understand is a radical — and badly needed — form of empathy. One may even call it radical empathy in the way that it destroys the false construct that animal suffering is less than that of humans. What is beautiful about humanity, however, is that we have the ability to create spaces to listen, to nurture empathy, and to respond to the needs of all vulnerable creatures. As Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe, one of the twentieth century’s most prolific mussar teachers, says, “We see ourselves in the other, as if every person we encounter is simply a mirror in which we see ourselves! That is to say: we have not yet freed ourselves from the self-centered perspective to see that the other is not identified with us. The other is precisely other, different from us in essence, and it is incumbent upon us to focus on the way the other differ from us and see that which the other needs, not that which we need!” (Alei Shur 2:6)”
Approaching the High Holidays means that we are afforded the opportunity to rethink our orientation towards meat consumption. This is not meant as a guilt trip. Rather, it is yet another chance to practice mussar (character development) in our everyday lives.
• Humility — Most importantly we allow ourselves to step back and focus on the grander meaning of the universe. Acting and speaking self-righteously with those who don’t arrive at the same conclusion immediately is immature and irrational. As I have come to learn, work performed in humility is far more likely to win the day. And such humility, when practiced with authenticity, is one of the greatest means to enact meaningful change. We do not deserve to make all of God’s creations tools for our pleasure.
• Gratitude — Create a deep appreciation of our own existence and that our lives are inextricably interconnected with each other’s. The focus of gratitude shifts away from the self and toward the other, and it leads us to take responsibility and care for other humans, for animals, and for our fragile earth.
• Discipline — It is not always easy to eat healthfully and ethically when the prevailing culture amplifies bad choices and quotidian cruelty; we are tempted every day. But there is also something simple in the act of committing one’s self to a lofty ideal. In doing so, we transcend our base selves and become beings of compassion.
I’d like to depart this piece with a thought from one of my spiritual heroes. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains, “Compassion is the feeling of empathy which the pain of one being of itself awakens in another; and the higher and more human the beings are, the more keenly attuned are they to re-echo the note of suffering which, like a voice from heaven, penetrates the heart (Horeb 17:125).”
Indeed, deepening spiritual integrity by reflecting upon and eliminating any vestiges of inconsistency between what we believe and how we live is a wonderful practice for growing individually and building community. As we mark this most auspicious of days on the Jewish calendar, let us take that precious time to reflect the people we were last year and the people we hope to be in the coming year. There is no better time to change our outlook, open our soul, and produce more kind-heartedness in a world that so desperately needs it. And together, we are not only able to enrich ourselves spiritually in this pursuit, but one another as well.
Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is the President & Dean of the Valley Beit Midrash, the Founder & President of Uri L’Tzedek, the Founder and CEO of The Shamayim V’Aretz Institute, the Founder and President of YATOM, and the author of thirteen books on Jewish ethics. Newsweek named Rav Shmuly one of the top 50 rabbis in America and the Forward named him one of the 50 most influential Jews.