In an interview that Joan Rivers (may she rest in peace) once conducted with comedian Sarah Silverman, she asked, "How did you come up? What was your big break?" Silverman laughed, and responded, "You know, everyone thinks you get one big break. Every time you do something and get noticed, people go "Wow, she's an overnight sensation!" I started comedy when I was 18 years old, and I'm 42 now, so I guess I had my first big break when I was 21 and then another at 27 and then another a few years later. …I've been at it for over 20 years, day in and day out, and every so often someone goe, "Wow, her big break!"
We do that. We keep thinking, I just need a clean slate, my big break. I just need to finish this project…once the holidays are over…as soon as the construction is done. …We imagine that Rosh Hashanah might be that big clean break moment: It's a new year; on Yom Kippur we'll wipe away all the bad stuff and start over!
But Sarah Silverman is right: We don't get just one big break. We hustle and make mistakes and do our best day in and day out, and the trick is to learn as we go and to commit to teshuvah, to creating a future that is different. Because we have lived and we have learned and we aren't brand-new. And we are brand-new. Judaism doesn't believe in the march of time, where yesterday turns into today turns into tomorrow—no, we believe that yesterday impacts today but that tomorrow impacts yesterday. As Rabbi Joseph Soloveichik put it, "The past by itself is indeterminate, a closed book. It is only the present and the future that can pry it open and read its meaning."
We don't get to start at the beginning, with a clean break. But God's gift to us is this gift of Rosh Hashanah, this day where in the middle of the year, in the seventh month on the Hebrew calendar–not the first–we are told: begin again. Blow the shofar, wake up, declare it not only a new day but the birthday of the world, a new year. Begin again.
On Rosh Hashanah we say Hayom harat olam. Today a new world is born, and we are God's partners in creating it. Today it is up to us as Jews to create the future–not the future that yesterday's newspaper leads us to believe is inevitable; no, it is up to us to build a future of peace and goodness and safety, the improbable future of compassion and toleranceand help to those in need, and of sharing and comfort. No matter the water under the bridges of our lives, no matter all that went down last month or the year before in our lives or in the world around us; no matter the burdens and hurts and scars and sins we went to bed with last night. Today we begin again.
G.E. Vaillant once wrote, "It is all too common for caterpillars to become butterflies, and then maintain that in their youths they had been butterflies all along." No. We are not yet the butterflies we will one day become. But hayom harat olam. Today we begin again. We become whatever it is we want to be. We create the future.
Wishing you all a shana tova u'metuka, a good and sweet year.
Rabbi Abigail Treu
Director, The Center for Jewish Living + The David H. Sonabend Center for Israel
by Judy Bernstein Bunzl, Katja Goldman, and Lisa Rotmil.
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Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur: Family Activities + Discussion Prompts from Mara Braunfeld, Director, Bert and Sandra Wasserman Center for Family Life
1) Rosh Hashanah is a time of new beginnings. What new things happened to our family since last Rosh Hashanah? What new things are we expecting in the year ahead?
2) Often at the start of a new year, whether it be January 1 in the secular calendar or Rosh Hashanah in the Jewish calendar, people make resolutions, promises of what they want to do in the next year. What resolutions do we want to make as a family? How will we hold ourselves accountable for these promises?
3) We eat apples dipped in honey for a sweet year. What are the ways that each family member can bring sweetness and joy to our family this year?
4) When someone in our family makes a mistake, how will we say "I'm sorry" and how will we make a different choice the next time?
To do together:
1) Go on a family apple picking adventure….or maybe just to a local farmers' market! Find and try all different kinds of apples. Talk about the color, size, texture, and taste of each kind. Create a tasting chart to record which family members like which kinds of apple. Cook up some fun recipes together—applesauce, apple cake, apple muffins, etc.
2) Have a taste test with different types of honey. For added fun, have children close their eyes when sampling different flavors of honey and have them try to guess each flavor.
3) Some families have the tradition of eating a new fruit at Rosh Hashanah; create a sample plate of all different new kinds of fruits to try.
4) Cut an apple in half horizontally to discover the star shape inside!
5) Jewish legend says that a pomegranate has 613 seeds, for the 613 mitzvot (commandments) in the Torah. Carefully cut open a pomegranate and count for yourselves!
6) Create a special growth chart for children, and each Rosh Hashanah measure not only how tall they have grown, but also record their favorite things, talents, funny stories, etc.
7) Collect different types of horns, blowers, or instruments (and even a shofar if you have access to one) and take turns making the different shofar sounds – tekiah (one long blast), sh'varim (three shorter blasts), t'ruah (nine very short blasts), tekiah g'dolah (one very, very long blast).