To me, September has always marked the beginning of a new year, even more so than January. Maybe it’s because it signals the end of summer, it’s the start of school or it’s the new fall air coming in (OK, maybe not as much in Miami…), but it’s a feeling I’ve always had. And maybe it’s amplified for another reason: as a Jew, September also marks the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana. When I learned that the theme for our September blogs was “self-improvement,” I knew I had to talk about this holiday.
Together, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the holiday that follows 10 days later, represent the High Holy Days, the holiest days of the year for many Jews. While deeply connected, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are actually quite opposite holidays on the surface. Rosh Hashana is festive and light. We greet each other with “Here’s to a sweet New Year!”, literally eat apples and honey to symbolize this and celebrate with the excitement of new beginnings. Yom Kippur, on the other hand, is somber and heavy. It’s actually called “The Day of Atonement.” On this day we do not celebrate; instead, we fast, abstain from all material pleasantries, and pray for forgiveness for those we have hurt in the past year.
The High Holy Days are a period of self-reflection, self-searching, and self-evaluation. As renowned Rabbi Jonathan Sacks says, “Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is the time when we ask the really deep questions: Who am I? Why am I here? How then shall I live?”
The idea is to both think back and see where you went wrong in the past year, and look forward to the New Year with the hopes of improving. I personally love this time of introspection. As a therapist, I especially appreciate any opportunity to reflect and work on myself. While I try to do this often, the High Holy Days are an elevated version of this, as there is more tradition, intention, and meaning behind it.
So, for those who celebrate and those who don’t, why don’t we all take some time to think about this. What have you learned from the past year? Where and how can you improve? What do you want this year to look like? What does the best (or improved) version of yourself look like?
As we say in Hebrew, לְשָׁנָה טוֹבָה, L’Shana Tova – to a good new year to you all.
“Here’s to a sweet New Year!” Jenny Friedman, LCSW