A few weeks ago, my mom was discussing our Rosh Hashanah plans with my nana. Somehow, in their conversation, my nana made a comment when referring to services that was something along the lines of, “it’s the same thing every year.” Although this comment grew to be something we teased her about, it led me to really think about the statement. Are the High Holidays truly the same every year?
In one sense, of course they are. Rosh Hashanah, like all Jewish holidays, offers some form of consistency in our ever-so-quickly changing lives. In periods of uncertainty or chaos, the values, traditions, prayers, and even cuisine present during Rosh Hashanah are always a constant. However, part of this experience can be exceedingly different. As we enter the Days of Awe, I can assure you that my Rosh Hashanah was slightly different enough to teach me a lesson or two.
I grew up at a Conservative synagogue in Wilmette and eventually over the years, my family joined a new Reform synagogue in Northfield. Due to a variety of experiences, I became more conservative at school and definitely found my place in the Jewish community of the Hillel at the George Washington University. There were times that I came home for one of the holidays so that I could spend time with my family, but I always was at school for at least one of the Holy Days.
Needless to say, it was a bit of a transition and change to know that I will be home for both holidays this September. After a few years of jumping back and forth between a reform service with my immediate family, the services I was accustomed to at school, and traditional services with my grandparents, my mother and I compromised on trying out a new conservative service this year. It is challenging to simply find a new synagogue for the holidays when tickets to services are costly and in high demand. We were lucky enough to receive complementary tickets from one of our close family friends.
The experience started off a bit odd. We weren’t aware that people brought their own prayer books, probably because it was in a theater in the community, rather than a sanctuary. As we strolled in like lost puppies, we shuffled our way up to the top of the theater and sat down for a few hours. After seeing a few familiar faces, which due to the vastness of Jewish geography, was inevitable, we both found ourselves surprisingly enjoying the same service.
As I thought about how the experience was in some ways identical to years past and in other ways, a brand new experience, I pulled myself away from my mid-service daydreams to listen to the rabbi’s sermon. I usually only love the sermons from my rabbi at Hillel and tend to space out during others, but this rabbi really caught my attention with her personality, humor, and various important messages. Although this was far from the point of her sermon, one smaller detail she focused on was uncertainty. Although she was talking about our immigrant ancestors and the Jewish people, the idea of thinking you know what is going on when nothing is 100 percent certain, no matter the situation, really resonated with me.
I think I spend most of my life with a plan, being sure of what’s next or at least confident of what I want to happen next. With that being said, it is truly strange to feel as though nothing is certain. I sat in the service thinking of the uncertainty present in my life and the anxiety that this has been causing for the past few months. The sermon made me realize that no matter why someone’s life possesses uncertainty, whether it’s due to a large-scale change like coming to America, or a smaller but still vital change of transitioning into the real world, uncertainty is something that you cannot escape. Every year in December before we watch the ball drop and ring in the New Year, we make resolutions of what we will do better in the upcoming year. Although this isn’t necessarily the same custom present in our Jewish new year, casting off your sins in order to start the year afresh can closely be related to pledging to do better in this year than in years past.
With that being said, I think that there is one resolution that everyone could benefit from making and that is to embrace uncertainty. As hard as it is for me to admit, the unknown can be a good thing filled with excitement, possibilities, and the potential for something better than you can ever expect. This 5773, I hope to start off the year with a little more optimism and wherewithal to step out of my comfort zone of having everything planned, organized, and calculated, and enter a new year with a little more spontaneity, perplexity, and willingness to realize that life doesn’t need to be the same thing every year. With that, I wish everyone reading a sweet new year with some great surprises.