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Apples and Honey and So Much More! Celebrating Rosh HaShana and Setting an Example

09/13/2022 02:56:39 PM


Rabbi Moshe Rudin



Shver zol zein a Yid- It’s hard to be a Jew, goes the old Yiddish saying.  But boy is it worth it!  The incredible rewards of Jewish life, community, spirituality, history and culture are simply a universe of joy.  

But beyond that, we Jews play a role in a free society.  As writer Dara Horn points out, the presence and flourishing of a group of people who do things differently than the majority culture is a testament to the freedom and democracy that is the essence of America.  Every country that has welcomed us and respected our rights to be who we are has benefitted not only from the considerable contributions we have made but by living in an open, free society.  The surest hallmark of tyranny and oppression of any country is the mistreatment of Jews.  A strong and secure Jewish community is a blessing to the world. It is a message to every citizen, Jew and non-Jew, affirming liberty and the freedom of the individual.  

Rosh HaShana is our New Year.  It is a day of solemn joy, family gatherings, reflection, lots of food and spiritual renewal and rest before beginning the new year.  

While synagogue attendance is a big part of the day for most of us, the meaning and importance of Rosh HaShana in Jewish life goes beyond the hours spent in prayer or schmoozing at shul.  The point is that we as a community are living in the light of our values.  For Jews to take these days as well as Yom Kippur away from all other pursuits is a powerful way to live our identity as proud Jews.  For us to take these days in the knowledge that our non-Jewish friends, neighbors and peers support our staying true to our heritage is a powerful way to live our identity as Jewish Americans.

Some employers or school districts are kind enough and respectful enough of their Jewish community to give the High Holidays of Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur as days off.  Others will allow it to be an excused absence.  Others, less respectful but still somewhat tolerant, will consider time taken off for our observance as personal days- although this is clearly punitive since it is a burden which Jewish employees alone are expected to bear.  There is no personal day penalty for not working during the Christian holidays- indeed, they are national holidays.  Why should Jewish Americans not be given the same consideration?  

But be that as it may, whether a day off, an excused absence or even a personal day, each of us should see observing Rosh HaShana as our own gesture of freedom, our own personal day of liberation from the ordinary to live in the light of the holy.  We have always taken these days off and the vast majority of our fellow Americans have responded with respect, support and understanding, realizing that celebrating religious freedom is the very essence of American greatness.

For students and teachers especially, this is our chance to show our country what it means to value freedom; and what is freedom if it’s not the freedom to be different and to celebrate our differences?   In a school setting, with so much emphasis on uniformity, keeping our children home from school during Rosh HaShana- both days- is a powerful message to them in taking pride and being unafraid to affirm who they are.  And for Jewish teachers, the obligation to set an example for both Jewish and non-Jewish children is even more compelling.  What is the message to our students, our community, our families and ourselves of abandoning a proud, life-affirming Jewish practice just to avoid using a personal day?  

The great symbol of Rosh HaShana is the sounding of the Shofar, the Ram’s Horn.  While the meaning of the Shofar blast is too deep and too profound to be expressed in a few words, one thing is certain: the Shofar is a call to each of us to live authentically.  For Jews, we have lived this heritage despite all of the darkness of hatred, bigotry and violence.  This alone is a message to the world.  The fact that this message is one of compassion, justice and service to Tikkun HaOlam, the repairing of the world, makes it even more compelling. 

Celebrate Rosh HaShana fully and do so proudly, affirmingly, positively and joyfully.  In a world suffering from so much anger, negativity and divisiveness, the sound of Shofar needs to be heard and lived- both days of the Jewish New Year.  L’shana Tova! 



Thu, February 22 2024 13 Adar I 5784