I once edited a book of stories by William Saroyan called “I Used to Believe I Had Forever, Now I’m Not So Sure.” The title came to mind recently as I prepared my desk calendar for 2013,
entering onto it key dates from 2012 that I keep from year to year — birthdays, anniversaries, my parents’ yahrtzeits and such. For people with electronic devices, that task probably takes seconds. But there is something more concrete about sifting through last year’s calendar, page by page, transferring dates and noticing events I attended. It certainly brings home the “now I’m not so sure” part of Saroyan’s title. A flip of a page and another day is marked off the “forever” that seemed to stretch before us when we were very young. As the old calendar pages fluttered into my wastebasket, an image used years ago in black and white films to show the passage of time flashed before my eyes: a calendar with pages turning quickly from one month to the next, as if blown by an invisible wind or moved by an unseen hand.
The beautiful September song by Maxwell Anderson and Kurt Weill (as you can see, I am rapidly slipping into nostalgia) speaks of the “long, long time from May to December.” But each year that time seems shorter and shorter, and not only because age compresses time. We get so many “save the date” notices now, in May for December events, or sometimes a year in advance, that just contemplating the distant event seems to accelerate time. To be sure, we’ve all experienced time creeping at a torturous pace when we’re waiting for something important, like the results of a medical test or the arrival of a new baby. But for the most part, it seems to hop away before we know it. The Chanukah candles burn down and, for Christians, once brightly lit trees lie in the streets, to be tossed out with the garbage. All in the blink of an eye.
As Jews, of course, we have two New Year dates to trigger thoughts about the flow of time. As we know, the celebrations of the two differ radically. Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year, is a period of prayer and repentance, celebrated largely in the synagogue and at family meals, while New Year’s Eve can be a raucous, horn-blowing holiday with fireworks and crowds crushed into Times Square for the countdown to midnight. But there is also a less-noticed difference between these two festivals. The secular New Year marks the end of a season of celebration that begins with the weeks leading to Christmas. Rosh HaShanah, on the other hand, marks the beginning of a season of celebration and contemplation. Although Yom Kippur, coming after it, is a somber day of fasting, it is also a happy day, when our sins are forgiven, according to tradition. And then the joyous Sukkot festival arrives. The secular New Year may include resolutions and predictions, but it involves much looking back and reminiscing about the past year. The Jewish New Year includes looking back, but, more than predictions, it centers on hope for the future.
Living in the diaspora, we celebrate both New Years and all they entail. In that spirit, here are a few 2012 subjects and the hopes they arouse for 2013:
The slaughter of innocents. The gut-wrenching massacre of children and teachers at Newton, Conn., was the most horrific of shootings this past year that included, among others, those in Aurora, Oak Creek, Tulsa, and Oakland. It seems a no-brainer that we need stricter gun-control laws. Now that the president has put that on his agenda, let’s truly hope for change even while we continue advocating for it.
President Obama and Israel. The president’s support of Israel after his re-election, evident in his opposition to enhancing the UN status of the Palestinians, should silence critics who branded him anti-Israel throughout the campaign. My hope is that if he criticizes Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans for continued settlement construction, he will not be seen as anti-Israel, but as “pro” the wish of many Israelis for negotiations with the Palestinians.
Abuse of children. The conviction of Satmar chasid and unlicensed therapist Nehemya Weberman of molesting a teenage girl offers hope that other young women in the chasidic community will speak out. Too often a veil of secrecy hides such crimes, as it does domestic violence among the ultra-Orthodox.
Women of the Wall. Finally, the Israeli government has taken notice of women’s struggles to pray as a group at the Western Wall, wearing their prayer shawls. Maybe we can really hope that at last women will gain this most basic right.
Happy 2013. (That number still feels unreal, doesn’t it? Like Saroyan, we all used to believe, etc.)
Francine Klagsbrun’s latest book is “The Fourth Commandment: Remember the Sabbath Day.” She is currently writing a biography of Golda Meir.