Up until this year, I was able to count twenty New Year’s Eves but next to zero Rosh Hashanahs. This left me with a notebook full of attempted resolutions, a few stellar get-togethers, a few major disappointments, and a kiss—or lack thereof—when the clock struck twelve. Like Cinderella, New Year’s is a time to dress up in sparkles, find the best ball, and desperately hold on to the magic that begins to slip as the year returns to its routine. All Rosh Hashanah meant, as a Jewish girl raised as Reformed as it gets, was the stomach-twisting pressure to listen to a man blow some animal horn from the back of a flooded synagogue. No sparkles, no nights to remember, just an out-of context, awkward wailing that was important because my parents Said So.
The funny thing about not properly celebrating Rosh Hashanah as I grew up, is that I actually wanted a New Year’s holiday around the time it usually hit. I still find myself marking the years by school beginnings and not Januaries. New backpacks and class schedules prompt fresh starts, and this year was no different for me. Even when my third year of college began, I still felt the need to reflect, and considered the advantage of a start-over button. Rosh Hashanah offered me this opportunity all along, but until this holiday season, I never realized I had it.
Spending the Rosh Hashanah with my school’s Chabad was different from my temple experiences back at home. The crowd was smaller, everyone was around my age, and it didn’t matter how observant you were. If you showed up, you were welcomed. When I received the holiday schedule, I felt like it was an invitation to a ball of a completely different sort. It sounded like a more personal and pensive event that didn’t need to be plastered on social media afterward.
When I came for the first service that Sunday evening, I was surprised it didn’t feel stuffy or boring. I enjoyed listening to the Rabbi’s son sing prayers, and I leafed through the Rosh Hashanah Machzor with curiosity. Like a form of meditation, it was nice to sit and let my mind unwind, knowing I had nowhere else to be.
Listening to the Shofar the next day was also an entirely new experience because it was was the first time I knew the context behind it. Earlier in the week, the Rabbi’s wife explained that the horn was meant to embody the cry of the Jewish people, and their longing to “return” to God. In Hebrew, this is known as Teshuva, and is often translated to mean repentance. I liked the idea of returning much better, and when the Shofar sounded, I thought of my growing connection to my Jewish roots and to the new year ahead. A sound that was once so foreign now flooded my ears with meaning. I had found the thing that turned back the clocks. I had found the reset button.
To tie the holiday together on the second day, we collected by the campus pond for the ceremonial ritual, Tashlich. We watched little bread pieces bob in the water as we threw away our past and the mistakes which came with it. At all our festive meals we dipped challah and apples into honey for a sweet, new year, and thought about “returning.” It was nice to celebrate with a group of people who come from different backgrounds but are still a part of the larger Jewish family. This was a pivotal experience for me, and I am grateful I approached the holiday with more understanding than I had in the past. Now that it is over, I am excited begin counting the deeply heartfelt Rosh Hashanahs alongside the glitzy New Year’s Eves— happy to finally have both.
By Carina Kohn
Carina is pursuing a bachelors degree in Creative Writing at SUNY New Paltz. She enjoys reading, playing piano, and singing. Carina’s passion about Judaism was rekindled on two inspirational Israel trips, Akiva Trip, and Jewel.
Carina’s article is a contribution to Shabbat.com’s “Open Blog Initiative,” giving writers and ordinary people a platform to voice their opinions and reflections on various topics. The Open Blog Initiative hopes to serve as a medium for social interaction and an exchange of ideas for the Jewish community. Submissions are currently being accepted for review at Shabbat.comEditors@gmail.com.