The new year is a time associated with revitalization, a chance for new beginnings, the opportunity to create healthier habits and stronger relationships – and for Jews, the new year comes not once but twice a year.
As summer days draw to a close and fall’s first gusts blow through the air, we celebrate Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish new year, and one week later, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. These holy days, arguably the most important in the Jewish calendar, offer the opportunity to revisit the year that has passed and take stock of the way we have engaged with the world in the last 12 months. Our tradition implores us to use the Days of Awe to honestly assess our behavior and determine how we may do better next year.
Three months later, the Gregorian calendar offers us the opportunity to check our progress toward the goals we set as January 1st approaches. Have we been living up to our vow to be slower to judge or to avoid gossip? Have we worked to support friends, family, and community even when it was inconvenient? Have we demonstrated love and respect for our parents and children? Instead of waiting another year, we have the chance to correct course early in the journey, before we have gone too far astray from our chosen destination.
Resolutions, like anything interpreted dogmatically, can be harmful, setting us up to fail. If we expect perfect adherence to a new habit, we will inevitably fall short. Rather, try viewing a resolution as a plan to work toward improvement, understanding that setbacks are part of the process. If you have been operating a certain way for most of your life, teaching yourself to act differently will include challenges. Forgive yourself for your humanity before gently nudging yourself back on your desired course.
If you, like me, thought about areas of your life in which you could make positive changes as you participated in High Holiday services, take a moment now to reflect on the goals you set for yourself three months ago.
Were your vows uttered and then quickly forgotten as you returned to your hectic routine?
Have you fallen back into familiar patterns that leave you distant from those around you, perhaps hurting them or yourself?
Or have you made an effort to be a better version of yourself, to take resolutions made during the days of awe and live consciously, with those intentions in mind?
To be available for other people, you have to care for yourself. In our busy lives, it is often this self-care that gets sacrificed when work needs to be done, groceries bought, dinner prepared, the house cleaned, and kids put to bed.
Just as the emergency instructions on planes instruct you to put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others, find a way to prioritize your wellbeing so you can be more present when engaging with friends and family. This could mean taking up yoga or meditation (both can be done in classes or at home at a time that works for you). It could mean making time with friends a weekly activity or for busy couples with kids, implementing a date night. It could mean finally taking the Italian, guitar, or salsa dancing lessons you have been wanting to try.
The more you nurture yourself, the more present you will be for those around you and the more resilience you will show when you momentarily lose your way.
As the new year begins, take time to check in with yourself. Where have you made progress since the goals you set at Rosh HaShanah? What's keeping you stuck in troublesome patterns? Try to understand areas of difficulty and work on a plan to move toward the type of engagement you hope to have with the world around you. You may consider talking with your rabbi or enlisting a therapist to work through it.
Above all, remember to show yourself compassion for falling short of your goals. To err is human, but ask yourself, next September: When I reflect on the year that has passed, how will I observe my effort to be more of the person I had hoped to be? Happy new year – again!