Tuesday, October 11, 2016
Yesterday and the day before were Rosh HaShanah — the Jewish New Year. It is both a joyous and a serious time of year. Beginning a full month before the holiday, we spend time reflecting on our actions and omissions of the past year and look forward to a new and better year — not just in the sense of what happens to us but in what we can accomplish, in the sort of person we can be.
But the holiday itself is a time of individual and community prayer as well as family gatherings. Every aspect of our identity is expressed at this time. When I try to articulate my own identity, I see myself as part of three different entities — my own individuality, my family and my community. And Rosh HaShanah is a time when we engage in reflection on all three levels — as individuals, as a family and as a community.
Personally, we reflect on where we can improve our behavior, both with regard to our fellow man and with regard to our relationship with G-d. As a family, we come together on the holiday, not just to celebrate together but to renew and refresh the relationships that bind us together. And as a community, we spend hours together in the synagogue, praying together, singing together and reveling in the spiritual experience that we all share as we seek a closer relationship with G-d. The process that begins on Rosh HaShanah continues for 10 days, culminating in Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, when we fast and pray for most of the day, together, as a community, as a family and as individuals. And when the shofar sounds at the end of the long day, we know that Jews all over the world are sounding the shofar at the end of the day, that not only as a community but as a nation. We have come through a special spiritual process and thank G-d for giving us the gift of His forgiveness.
Rosh HaShanah is also a time to turn to G-d and seek His blessings for the New Year. We ask for good health, happiness, financial security, safety, and peace. And for years now, I have personally asked that my children find the right spouse so that they may settle down and start a family, building the sort of household that Ed and I have built with each other and with our children. Family is critical to a Jewish life and seeing our children settled in their own families has long been a priority and a desperate prayer for us.
As we entered this New Year, we were blessed by an amazing gift. My son Yehoshua announced his engagement to a lovely young woman and they are going to be married soon. As word got out in the community, everyone responded with the same words — what a wonderful way to usher in the New Year!
The holiday is two full days, which means four festive meals. Typically, we have one meal with the extended family — my parents, siblings and their children as well as my own family. Other meals may include friends but there is always one meal that is just my immediate family. And at these festive meals we always ask for specific blessings from G-d at the beginning of the meal. For example, we dip an apple in honey and ask G-d to give us a sweet year. For several years now, at our more intimate meal, I have asked G-d for three weddings, as I had three sons who were not married and were eager to settle down. And each year, when Rosh HaShanah came around, I found myself asking for the same blessing.
Last year, when I asked for three weddings, I knew that two of my sons were involved in serious relationships and that it was likely that they would both get married that year. But nothing was definite so my wish was as fervent as ever. Never did I dream that this year, as Rosh HaShanah came around, I would be able to thank G-d for granting me all three wishes. Yes, we had three engagements this past Jewish year — my son David got engaged in October and married in January, my son Donny got engaged in January and married in March and my son Yehoshua just got engaged and will be married soon.
Of course as soon as the news got out, our phone rang off the hook as family and friends called to wish us “Mazal Tov!”, the Jewish version of Congratulations. One of my close friends is the rabbi’s wife and when she phoned I told her about the three prayers each year and how this year G-d had heard my prayers. She assured me that G-d had heard my prayers each year but had only decided to give me what I asked for this year. And then I wondered if G-d was waiting for the right time for all three to get married so that I would, indeed, have all three at once, as I had requested.
I can’t explain how uplifted I felt, how amazingly grateful I felt, the entire holiday but especially in the synagogue, as I said the familiar words and sang the familiar songs. The most solemn moment of the service is the Netane Tokef prayer, when we ask G-d to give us a good year while recognizing that He alone holds our fate in His hands — He alone determines whether we will live or die, and whether we will suffer famine, persecution, illness. While I was flying high on cloud nine, I was still aware that anything can happen this year.
We cannot know how our year will end. But I do know how this year is beginning — full of promise and joy! My prayers have been answered! Is there any feeling more joyous than that. Is there a way to thank G-d properly, to express how grateful we are? There are plenty of holidays coming up, where we will be reciting the Hallel praises (Psalms 113-118), rejoicing in G-d and singing praises to His name. When I sing them on Succot, the upcoming Feast of Tabernacles, I will be singing for my own personal fortune as well as for all of us.
My wish and prayer for you, all of you dear friends of Israel and dear friends of mine, is that G-d will answer your own personal prayers and that you will know only joy and fulfillment during the coming year. May G-d bless you richly this year.
Sondra Oster Baras
Director of CFOIC’s Israel Office