A Fresh Start for a New Year
Published: Friday, September 13, 2013
Updated: Friday, September 13, 2013 01:09
Last Wednesday, we celebrated Rosh Hashanah, the start of year 5774 in the Jewish calendar, and tomorrow will mark Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. As a kid, I always associated Rosh Hashanah with the New Year more than the “normal” New Year’s celebration of December 31. Nothing ever felt new on January 1. I was in the same grade, I was the same age; it was just more of the same. Not to mention, I was sick of falling for the classic teacher joke in December that there would be “no more homework for the year,” only to get piles more in January. Rosh Hashanah, on the other hand, was the end of summer, the start of a new school year and even — since I have a summer birthday — a new age.
Since then, the parties, fireworks and champagne of the January festivities have grown on me. But celebrating Rosh Hashanah still feels more appropriate because school — now Georgetown instead of elementary school — continues to determine the flow of my year. With all the new beginnings that Rosh Hashanah brings, it’s valuable to look forward, speculating about the different things to come and deciding what I want to do differently this year.
However, one of the best parts about the High Holidays — Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur — is the chance to look back at the past year. Every year on December 31, everyone makes a resolution — something they want to do, a place they want to go, a goal they want to reach — but we never really look back at what we’ve already done, who we’ve met or what we wish we did differently.
The High Holidays give me a time to do that. Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are 10 days during which we are able to examine the year that has just come to a close and evaluate how we used it. That way, before you get started on the upcoming 12 months, you know where you have been in the last ones. At the end of the 10 days, on Yom Kippur, we repent. This opportunity to recognize what you did wrong allows you to start fresh in the new year and get rid of emotional baggage.
When I was little, I hated repenting on Yom Kippur. In services, when everyone took a moment to apologize to loved ones for wronging them in the past year, I would stand quietly looking at my feet while my mom and dad apologized to me. I felt too uncomfortable admitting I had done anything wrong in the past year to own up to it, even in a general sense, or try to make it right. Since then, I have learned to embrace the tradition. I now understand that only by reflecting on what I did wrong, understanding why it was wrong and trying to repent can I learn from the experience and grow. These days, apologizing to those I love brings me a sense of relief and refreshment.
Regardless of your religion, reflecting on what you have done in order to grow is a great way to start the year, relax and prepare for new experiences. If you are a freshman, that could be anything from meeting new people to taking new classes to learning how to live in a dorm. For the seniors, it could be finding a new job or internship as you prepare to leave Georgetown. My fellow sophomores and I are picking majors and applying to go abroad. However, before you embark on whatever adventures await, take a few moments to reflect on the previous year — maybe even apologize for something if you feel so inclined — so that you have a stronger base to stand on as you go forward.
If this sounds appealing, I invite you to join Kol Nidre or Yom Kippur services. They will be in Gaston Hall on Friday night and all day Saturday and are always beautifully conducted by Rabbi Rachel Gartner. I will be happily taking advantage of the opportunity for adventures by going to a new restaurant with a friend for the traditional Break Fast meal. To everyone observing: Have an easy fast, and to everyone — observing or not — L’Shana Tova.
Max Magerman is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service.