The Jewish New Year Is For All

God is ready to turn the page on a New Year, not just for the Jews, who are ushering in the year 5777. This New Year is for all of us, every faith, every culture, every person. God knows we all need a New Year, as this one was so full, too full, of name-calling and violence and despair.

And while He or She did not tell me this directly, I am certain that God hates all of this fighting going on, all over the world, in His or Her name, in OUR names.

I am sure that God is incredulous over the religious hatred between countries and denominations that is spawning terror and wars. Polls repeatedly show that most people believe in a Supreme Being, a Higher Power, a force or spirit called "God".

Muslim, Catholic, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Jew -this loving spirit that is at the core of all of our faiths should be our eternal bond and not a horrific, relentless divider.

As I sit this week in our High Holiday services I am struck by how the verses in our Rosh Hashanna and Yom Kippur liturgy is for everybody. Our Jewish tradition believes that God understands all languages, and that all prayers of the heart to Him or Her are heard. Our holidays are a plea for forgiveness and a renewal of self - who doesn't need that?.

I grew up in a largely Catholic neighborhood outside of Chicago and my childhood friends used to tell me how lucky I was that I got two New Year celebrations, one in the fall and one on January 1st.

They would come to our house and eat my mom's brisket and matzoh ball soup. We would talk more about how much we all loved the food and each other and less about who was going to heaven or hell. I still make my mother's brisket recipe as her mother did, and her mother did.

That's the beauty of the holidays -- we are reminded of the rich tapestry and love that binds us together as families, through the generations

We are reminded in our New Year that God is about taking care of family. God is about being your best self to others. Our New Year allows us a time of reflection and re-direction, to shed old selves that need to be discarded, and become the selves we aspire to be.

So I invite my readers, of all religions and beliefs, to join in on the spirit of our High Holidays. I know we have our differences in how we view which characters in the Bible did what and how centuries ago. We differ in what God means to each of us.

Yet the messages we hear from our rabbis during these times are universal and unifying.

This is the season when we thank God for the bounty that fills our lives, and pray for the well being of others. Having sat in many church services I know that you do the same. Different songs, different prayers, but we all are yielding to the Higher Power of something larger than our own selfish desires.

I have talked often with Rabbi Ari Goldstein, from my Temple Beth Shalom in Maryland, about how our New Year can signify a New Year for all. He is a spiritual leader who is also a great film buff, and he often brings up modern movies to make a point about what's in our ancient Bible:

"One of my favorite movies ever made is 'Groundhog Day', in which Bill Murray played the role of a selfish narcissist forced to relive a single day in his life, over and over again," Goldstein said. "It wasn't until he changed his ways and made himself a better person that he was relieved of this nightmarish loop.

"Rosh Hashanna, the Jewish new year symbolizes our personal Groundhog Day," Goldstein continued. "Every year we consider our actions and how we can better ourselves. In essence, the New Year gives us an opportunity to start fresh, to start anew."

Goldstein then shared a traditional Jewish verse from a Rosh Hashanna service that is a message for all people who would like to join in with our New Year transformation."

"Now is the time for turning. The leaves are beginning to turn from green to red and orange. The birds are beginning to turn and are heading, once more, towards the South. The animals are beginning to turn and are storing their food for the winter

For leaves, birds, and animals, turning comes instinctively. But for us, turning does not come so easily. It takes an act of will for us to make a turn. It means breaking with old habits. It means admitting that we have been wrong; and this is never easy. It means starting over again; and this is always painful. It means saying, "I am sorry."

These things are terribly hard to do. But, unless we turn, we will be trapped forever in yesterday's ways."

Shanah Tova means In Hebrew, "A Good Year", and we say this to our Jewish friends as we leave our temple. May all faiths turn the page together toward another year that needs to be far better than the last.

Reprinted from Iris' hometown newspaper, The Annapolis Capital Gazette. Find more of her work on

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