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Happy New Year…But….

We live in a world that runs by the sun, and yet it is the moon the reminds my people of who we are and where we are going.
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But I celebrated the beginning of my new year three months ago. I took stock of what I had done the year before, what I should have done, what I didn’t do. I thought about those I had hurt and those who had hurt me. I tried to let go of the anger I felt towards some, knowing it was just pulling me down and I did an accounting of all that God has given to me so that I could thank Him for each blessing, each child, each bit of love in my life.

I listened to the cleansing call of the shofar, the ram’s horn, which reaches deep into your soul and reminds you of the beauty of life. I closed out the world for more than 48 hours to accomplish this, to focus on my world, my family, my country, my life, me. This is the Jewish new year; this is what Jews celebrate, anticipate, acknowledge and adhere to.

And when all was said and done, back those three months ago, I began a new year with hopes and dreams and a belief that all would be well. I still believe in those dreams and hopes, despite that little detour a while back which took my country to the edge of war and my son into a shower of incoming rockets.

Many of my Christian friends wished me a happy new year and I thanked them as I celebrated my new year, the start of a new cycle, a new calendar. My year is charted by the moon and incredibly tied to the land of Israel. In many ways, you can’t imagine the deepest meaning of the days and weeks and months of the Jewish calendar that pass without understanding how Israel is tied to the year’s passing. The rains come, almost always after Sukkot; and end, almost always before Passover.

In America, we celebrated Tu B’Shevat and are told it is the “new year of the trees.” So we put money in a blue box labeled “Jewish National Fund” or paid to plant a tree in Israel in memory of someone, got a certificate, and called it a day. But you have to be here in Israel to see the truest meaning of the day. We see the forests planted by all those blue boxes but even more incredible. Did you know the flowers of the almond trees bloom – they really do – on the 15th day of the month of Shevat – isn’t that incredible? Oh, not everywhere and not every tree – but many of them.

On Chanuka in America, we light our menorah in a window as our children marvel at the colorful lights brightening the homes and trees of our neighbors for a celebration that is often weeks away. Our modest little candles that burn at night are for some ancient victory in a far away land. In Israel – almost every window has those shining lights; they are on street corners and roofs of buildings. And as we drive, we pass the graves of those who fought the battle to end tyranny in our land and rekindle the lights in the Holy Temple. This is where that battle was fought. In America, children play with the dreidal, a spinning top with four letters representing the words, “a great miracle happened THERE.” And here in Israel, our children play with a different dreidel that says, “a great miracle happened HERE.” Here, not there. Ours, not theirs.

And so we get to the point of this post. Two nights ago, it was December 31 – the end of the calendar year, the solar year. We live in a world that runs by the sun, and yet it is the moon the reminds my people of where we are, who we are, and where we are going. December 31 does end a year – a solar year, a fiscal year.

A year…but not my year, not my calendar. All over Facebook, over emails and the Internet, everyone is wishing each other a happy new year but a part of me stands back. I wish them all a happy new year. I hope that it will be a year of hope and health, love and laughter. But when someone wishes me the same, it feels strange. It isn’t mine, I want to say. It is part of a culture I left behind  - chose to leave behind. My not accepting it, not making it special, not partying or whatever is not a rejection of you. It is a rejection FOR ME.

I worked yesterday; as I worked the day before and as I work today. I have wished friends and clients in America, India and Europe a happy new year – their year. For centuries, Jews were forced to live separately – in many places – England, France, Sweden (where Jews were not allowed to live until late in the 18th century), Spain, Poland…Jews were not allowed to own land. In Gibraltar today, legally, Jews are still not allowed to live there despite the current Jewish community’s existence.

There is no insult intended in our remaining separate in this tradition. Please celebrate your new year and pray for peace – peace for the world and peace for Jerusalem and Israel.

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About the Author: Visit Paula Stern's blog, A Soldier's Mother.


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