It is now Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year.
Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are called the High Holy Days. They are more holy days, than holidays, a time for introspection more than a time of celebration.
The Jewish tradition says that every year God reviews the lives of all of humanity and decides what will happen in each life in the year to come. God decrees life or death for each person, inscribing all who will live in the Book of Life.
On Rosh Hashana Jews wish each other a happy holiday and good year to come. In the time between the New Year and Yom Kippur the traditional blessing is “May you be inscribed in the Book of Life.” The exact translation of the Hebrew reflects Jewish cynicism (and negative experiences throughout our history) saying “May your name be well written, all the way, in the Book of Life” and basically expresses the sentiment: “I hope you don’t die next year and nothing terrible happens to you.”
It’s kinda funny and terrible at the same time.
Cultures around the world have different New Year traditions, ways to celebrate and times of the year that are considered “New Year.” I don’t think there is any culture that marks the New Year with the same level of introspection about the year that passed and the upcoming year, in the same way Jews do. How many people do you know that truly reflect on the quality of their lives, what they have contributed to their fellow man and the possibility of dying in the upcoming year?
Jewish tradition says that before being right with God people have to be right with each other. During the time between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur individuals reflect on their actions during the past year and ask forgiveness from people they may have hurt during the previous year. People ask God to forgive their sins AFTER humans forgive each other for hurting each other. This is a very different emphasis than that of other religions and cultures. Religious figures, God or prayers do not have the power to absolve Jews from their sins, it is only by taking personal responsibility for previous wrong actions and asking forgiveness for the person that was wronged can healing begin.
Jews don’t need to be good just to other Jews; we believe that it is crucial to be good to all people, everywhere, to provide help where it is needed, to right wrongs wherever possible, to make life better.
I am proud that Israel upholds these ideals throughout the year, providing humanitarian aid around the world as well as innovations that affect the lives of people everywhere – everything from agricultural inventions that provide food and clean water in third world countries to the modern day conveniences people in the western world no longer know how to live without. One of the most disparaged nations on earth, we probably provide the most to people worldwide (this is absolutely true when Israeli & Jewish contributions to humanity are calculated per capita). We do our best to do the right thing for each other, for our nation and for the world. We will continue to do so, whether others recognize this or not, whether this is appreciated or not.
May the year ahead be a safe and happy one for everyone, Jews and non-Jews in Israel and around the world.