As we begin another year, both at school and the Jewish New Year, this is the time to reflect on who we are, who we want to be, and how to be – better. The start of school and Rosh Hashanah both represent a time of renewal and a time of hope. We are filled with anticipation about what this year may bring, hoping and praying for peace, health, and – you fill in the blanks.
As we approach 5782, the news continues to inundate us with reports of crisis, suffering and dissension. We thought we had put COVID-19 behind us, and yet parts of our country are being ravaged by it, and we remain on alert. The suffering we are witnessing right now, on so many fronts, can be overwhelming.
How do we embrace a new year in the face of these challenges? How do we parent our children so that they feel safe and hopeful for their future?
We have a responsibility to remember that our children are still young and deserve to have a childhood and teen experiences. The most obvious answer is to limit their exposure to the news and to reassure them that the adults in their lives are doing everything to keep them safe. As children enter their preteens and teenage years, they have more access to information and misinformation on the internet. They have plenty of time to be adults. Help them to balance what they hear and the concerns they may have with enjoying this special time in their lives.
At a time like this, I am reminded of a quote by Menachem Mendel Schneerson, “If you see what needs to be repaired and how to repair it, then you have found a piece of the world that God has left for you to complete. But if you only see what is wrong and ugly in the world, then it is you, yourself that needs repair.”
I choose hope. I choose to repair and refuse to see the world as ugly. The world, and humanity, have infinite possibilities, we can find our piece to repair and make it better, rather than being consumed by the challenges.
Personally, when I become overwhelmed with all that is going on, I remind myself that no one ever promised that life would or should be easy. Some of us have more challenges than others, and some truly suffer. I think about the book of Job – which teaches us that we cannot understand suffering or why some people suffer terribly and others have seemingly “charmed” lives. And the book of Kohelet reminds us that life is unpredictable and can change in an instant. This is the story of humanity. So what do we take away? Our tradition teaches that life also has profound meaning and life can have joy. I have learned that with meaning and joy can come internal and lasting happiness, even in the face of adversity.
In this new year I commit to repairing – doing better in my relationships, giving more tzedakah to help those suffering, to continue to work to make Schechter a place that aligns with our values and philosophy in a loving and patient way, and to continue to work on myself and focus more on gratitude. Gratitude is an antidote to the negativity that comes at us daily. Gratitude reminds us of what we have and the sacred, beautiful moments in our lives, which are abundant. Gratitude can neutralize feelings of guilt that we are lucky and privileged compared to so many in this world. Gratitude neutralizes entitlement as well. Gratitude lifts the spirit and reminds us what is important in an unpredictable world.
In this new year, I am challenging myself to be more thoughtful about all that I am grateful for, beyond what our Tefillot remind us of daily. A new school year and Rosh Hashanah are perfect times to focus on gratitude and to teach gratitude to our children as well. I read somewhere that at the end of each day we should either write down or reflect on five things we are grateful for from that day and/or in general. I am trying to make that a habit, as I have so much to be grateful for. Perhaps make this a bedtime ritual or share it with your children at the Shabbat table each Friday night. As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “It is gratefulness that makes the soul great”
Hagei Tishrei (Holidays of Tishrei) focus on introspection, renewal, joy, and gratitude. This is the perfect time for each of us to commit to doing our part to repair what is broken while also focussing on gratitude. I am confident that if we make this effort, this year can only be better!
Wishing each of us, and the world a better year – a year of health, healing, increased understanding, meaning, gratitude, and joy!