Like the Chinese and the Muslims we Jews have two new years, Rosh HaShanah and January 1. The somberness of our own new year, combined with its many rituals, dwarfs the secular new year in its depth of meaning. Still, the new year that commences this evening, December 31 at midnight, is not without its own messages.
First, come mid-December or so, we are bombarded by newspaper columns and television commentary telling us the best of and worst of: movies, books, national and international events. Living our day to day lives as we do by the Gregorian calendar, we are inevitably drawn into this kind of reflection along with our neighbors.
Moreover, I expect, in the spirit of the season, we make a resolution or two, the keeping of which commences on January 1st. Gymnasiums, for example, typically receive an avalanche of new member applications from folks who resolve that THIS is the year they’ll finally get in shape. And perhaps they will.
Of course, we barely need to be reminded that this year was a year unlike any other in recent memory. It’s been a year that’s compelled us to live very differently. Many have been confined to their homes. Students’ school lives have been radically disrupted. The economy was damaged. Travel restricted. People were unable to see one another face to face. Speaking personally, save for the one outdoor service I conducted on my first Shabbat here in Columbia, all services have been conducted courtesy of Zoom. So meeting you in person has been nigh on impossible.
More, the issue of race confronted us as a nation in a way it hadn’t for several decades. We’ve seen a rise in white supremacy. We were forced to look at our nation and ourselves and question anew, What is the state of racism in our country? What is the state of democracy, a fact of our political life that we treasure so greatly? Of course, we’re about to see our first African American vice president, and, while this doesn’t mean an end to racism in America, it’s a great thing. It doesn’t hurt that Kamala Harris’s husband is Jewish.
Come the new year we’ll have a new president, as well. I know we all wish him well as he takes the helm to lead us through some rocky shoals as we fight the pandemic and ultimately win, all the while continuing to look at ways we can make America a better place of all of its citizens.
My thoughts and energy, new year wise, is usually on Rosh Hashanah. I write sermons and try my best to focus on the themes Rosh Hashanah preaches: unity, teshuvah, the creation of the world, how we can be a better person.
But this Gregorian year is different. We are as a nation moving into another measure of time, one that I pray gives us a path to a better and healthier future.
And so it requires of me a resolution or two, listed below. Some are personal, and some are public.
- Stay healthy.
- Be a more disciplined writer.
- Work with you, my congregation, to build on our strengths to make a better and stronger CBS for all of its members.
- Work with the larger community to help, build a better Columbia.
- Lose weight, get in shape, learn Klingon and ancient Greek, and memorize the Talmud (by June).
A happy and healthy new year to you all as along with all the world we say a not-so-fond farewell to 2020. See you on Zoom until in-person makes sense. And stay warm.
Rabbi Phil Cohen