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Judgment Day Is Now: Rosh Hashanah

We have no one to judge but ourselves—lessons for everyone from the Jewish New Year.

There’s no one more surprised by my recent spirituality than I.

I don’t consider myself ultra religious or a strict believer, but I’ve definitely become more thoughtful about the role of religion and spirituality in my life of late.

In the past I've written about searching for meaning in how my young children are being introduced to religion and Hebrew school. They’re of the age where they’re just starting to try to figure out and understand what it all means.

Since we’ve just celebrated Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, perhaps it’s another reason why thoughts of faith are more top of mind.

For readers who aren’t familiar with Rosh Hashanah, Jews around the world are currently celebrating the High Holy Days—the most sacred time of the Jewish year—which began this past Sunday evening with the New Year and continue through Yom Kippur on Sept. 26.

During this time Jews reflect on their lives over the past year, and look to where they can improve. We assess where we may have been unkind or wronged others, we come to terms with our own shortcomings, we ask for forgiveness from God, others or ourselves, and we commit to doing better.

So I thought it would be a perfect time for all of us—Jewish and non-Jewish alike—to think about those lessons these High Holy Day questions teach us on a global scale. You don’t need to be Jewish, and it doesn’t necessarily need to be this time of year, (and we Jews are always happy for the company), so why not try it with me right now?

If you had to examine your life of the last year, how would you say you did?

How compassionate were you toward others, really? More importantly, have you set the example of how to be compassionate for your children?

Stress levels are higher as budgets get tighter and unemployment figures stay high. The news is more and more dire every day, locally, nationally and around the world. So perhaps it’s understandable to forget to be as generous this year with our compassion let alone our wallets.

But it is in times of difficulty that our efforts to help others can be felt the most, and when that lesson is passed along to our children the impact is felt exponentially. We’ve tried to take our children along to philanthropies or talk more about what’s happening in the world around us, even when we’ve felt the difficulties of unemployment ourselves. It teaches them that they are part of a larger world no matter what.

One of the strong themes of High Holy Day self-reflection is about asking for forgiveness. How often do we let pride get in the way of the important relationships in our lives? In the quest to be always right or to win the fight, we lose so much more than we ever stood to gain by being overly staunch. Asking for forgiveness may not necessarily have to mean “I was wrong,” as much as it can mean “I want to make this better with you. How can we work it out?” (Whether it’s a fight with a loved one, or a political battle in Washington, there are many people—including me—that can learn from this lesson!)

Sometimes the search for meaning in our lives is hampered given the pressures of keeping up day to day. I know so many other women like me who dash from this volunteer commitment to that parenting obligation, living out of the cluttered mobile office of the front seat as they shuttle each child from here to there and back again. The pressure to keep up with the neighbors in this part of our suburban jungle is strong for some—crushing for others. Our children are stressed, and we’re just as stressed in order to play the part of “everything’s perfect.” And for what?

How often do we just stop and say, “I’m grateful for what I have.”

At Rosh Hashanah, we traditionally eat apples and honey as a symbolic way of celebrating the bounty of the earth and the sweetness of life. There’s something kind of pure and good about the combination. And while I’ve got to attribute that association of familiar comfort to some 40-odd years of dipping apples in honey around this time of year, I’ve also got to think that there’s something to be said for the simplicity and natural wholesomeness of just an apple and plain ole honey. Nothing fancy, nothing adorned.

I like the reminder of savoring the sweetness.

You’ll notice through all of this, I only mentioned God once. Whatever you believe in, and whether you believe in a god or not, these are questions that are universal and good to ask. Because in the end, the only one who needs to hear the answers is you.

Editor's note: This is an updated version of a column written last year by columnist Heather Borden Herve. It has been updated to reflect the 2012 calendar. 

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