‘So what do you do on this holiday?”
When I try to answer this question, as yet another Jewish celebration approaches, I sound like a scratched CD from my middle school music collection: repetitive, shallow, immature, boring.
“Well, usually the family gets together for a big meal,” I say, “and we go to synagogue with a thousand other people who don’t want to be there. Did I mention gefilte fish? It’s really awesome.”
Next week marks the beginning of the Jewish High Holidays, a month of feasting and fasting, of repenting and rejoicing — like every other time of the Jewish year.
Except that the High Holidays, the same ones Jews have been observing for thousands of years, are actually a time of radical newness — a time so radical and so new that during these days, our sages say, we exist somewhere in the space between life and death.
It is Rosh Hashanah, the “new year” that falls in the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar. It is Yom Kippur, a day of repentance and self-negation that is actually considered the most joyous time of year. It is Sukkot, the weeklong festival when we dwell in fragile, temporary huts to remind ourselves that God’s sturdy cosmic embrace is all the protection we have or need.
For this kind of new year, we don’t make resolutions. (In fact, on Yom Kippur, a special service is conducted in synagogue that formally nullifies all vows made in the year.) Rather, we bring the picture of ourselves into focus — we look at our lives in the highest possible resolution. What we see depends on the day or the year, and changes from person to person in this or that community.
When we look closely — when the face in the mirror becomes clear — I pray that what we see is our infinite potential plainly revealed.
Josh Fleet is the associate editor of religion for The Huffington Post. A version of this column was originally published as part of HuffPost’s High Holy Day “liveblog,” a virtual community observance updated daily with spiritual reflections, blogs, photos, videos and verses. HuffPost wants to include your story. Josh invites you to send photography, poetry, artwork, video or text of 150-300 words to firstname.lastname@example.org.