Celebrating the new year this time of year
by Faith Schuster
Sep 13, 2012 | 2306 views | 0 0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Faith Schuster
Words of  Faith
Faith Schuster Words of Faith
In the mythology of ancient Rome, Janus is the god of beginnings and transitions, also of gates, doorways, endings and time. He is usually portrayed as a two-faced god, looking simultaneously to the future and to the past. The Romans dedicated the month of January to Janus; we celebrate January as a time to look back on events of the past year while looking forward to better times and new opportunities we hope the new year will bring. Along with parties, champagne, fireworks, and “Auld Lang Syne,” the arrival of a new year inspires us to resolve to do better and be better than in the past year.

Why, you may wonder, am I writing about January and a new year on a warm, sunny, late summer day in Vermont? It is because, for me and other Jewish people, a new year arrives this month, providing us with similar opportunities to look back and examine our lives, make amends for mistakes of the past year, and make a fresh start for the new year – to re-create and renew ourselves and the world around us.

Rosh Hashanah, the start of the Jewish new year, begins on the evening of the last day of the 12th month of the Jewish calendar, not the 31st of December but the 29th of Elul. We are about to usher in the year 5773, but even before “New Year’s Eve,” the entire month of Elul is a time to search one’s heart and ask forgiveness for wrongs you have done and to grant forgiveness to others who may have wronged you. It is a time of soul-searching in preparation for the coming Day of Judgment (Rosh Hashanah) and the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). Just as many people take the time during the secular new year to create resolutions, the Jewish New Year provides a time for us to make amends for past mistakes, to think about ourselves differently, to examine the world with a clearer mind, and to make a fresh start.

The 10 days starting with Rosh Hashanah and ending with Yom Kippur are called the Days of Awe or the Days of Repentance. Tradition teaches that on Rosh Hashanah God writes our names in the Book of Life for the coming year, noting who will live and who will die, who will have a good life and who will have a bad life. This decree can be altered by acts of repentance, prayer, and good deeds during the Days of Awe and the 26 hours of fasting, atonement, and solemn prayer on Yom Kippur. The Book (and one’s fate) is sealed as Yom Kippur comes to an end at sundown.

These two holidays are the most important of all the Jewish holidays-- the only that are purely religious, not related to any historical event or cycle of nature. Rosh Hashanah is celebrated as a time of family gatherings, special meals, and sweet-tasting foods (symbolizing our wishes for a sweet year). Yom Kippur, the most solemn day of the Jewish year, is a day of fasting, reflection, and prayer.

Just as there is something special about the celebration of a new year in January, the Jewish New Year is a very special time. Even Jewish people who are not very observant throughout the year generally go to services in a synagogue on these holy days.

As the awesome day of Yom Kippur comes to a close, we gather for a Ne’ilah service ( Ne’ilah means “closing the gate”). While the Gates of Heaven are still wide open, we turn to God to accept our sincere repentance and our new resolutions and, as the gates slowly close, to seal us in the Book of Life for a new year of goodness and happiness.

The Brattleboro Area Jewish Community, Congregation Shir Heharim, welcomes people to attend its services, which are held at the West Village Meeting House on South Street in West Brattleboro: Rosh Hashanah at 7 pm on Sunday, September 16, and 9:30 am on Monday, September 17; Yom Kippur at 7 pm on Tuesday, September 25, and 9:30 am on Wednesday, September 26; and Ne’ilah at 6 pm, Wednesday, September 26. Congregation Beth El in Bennington will also hold services on those dates. For more information about services check these websites: www.bajcvermont.org and www.cbevermont.org.

The traditional greeting for Rosh Hashanah is “L’shanah tovah tikatevu” which translates “May you be inscribed (in the Book of Life) for a good year.” This greeting, wishing others a good year, is often shortened to “Shanah tovah” (good year). Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the traditional greeting is “Gemar Chatimah Tovah,” “May your final sealing (in the Book of Life) be good.” So now, on this warm, sunny, early autumn day, I wish you all “L’shanah tovah tikatevu” – Happy New Year! I hope and pray that 5773 will be a year of peace and prosperity and good times for all good people in the world.

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